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[P]
The Impossibility of Politics

By bobjim in Op-Ed
Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:12:35 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)
Politics

Amongst the culture and technology articles accepted by Kuro5hin, there are an abundance of political articles. Intense political debate rages in comments. Outside of political fora, most people find politics dull and incidental to their lives. It's easy to label people apathetic, but are they wrong? Most political discussion is discussion within politics, but the institution itself is rarely examined. Why does no-one care? Why do people become politicians? Does all this political discussion matter?


Nobody Cares

On my first day at university, the head of the politics department gave a talk to the few people who were doing politics degrees. He explained that in previous years and talks, he had asked the students if they thought whales should be saved. This always gained quite a large response. So, then he would lay five pounds on the table, explaining that it was to save the whales, asking the whale-saving students to do the same. Some people would do this. Next, he would lay another five pounds on the table. A few students would put in another five pounds. Very rarely, a few generous souls would equal his next fiver. Nobody ever went higher than that. The twenty pounds they'd contributed was less than the price of a good night out. As students, it was certain they'd be enjoying a large number of good nights out over the coming semester. Absolutely no-one, no matter how strongly they felt about the poor dying whales would ever give more than one night's entertainment for them.

Politics students, despite the evidence I've seen, are perhaps a little more interested in politics than the general population. Despite this, no-one on my degree course has ever contributed to a political party. Few people have. It's been said that we're only a few meals away from anarchy. When people are not starving or terrified, there is little reason for them to get involved in politics. When they are starving, the next meal is more important. Those who have the time to worry about politics don't have the motivation: Those who have the motivation don't have the time. In general, people are happy to let others get on with the boring stuff whilst they enjoy themselves. When the time comes around for them to make their mark on a piece of paper, they do so happy in the knowledge that their duty has been done and now its someone else's fault.

Not caring about politics, most people don't make very much effort to understand politics. Here in the UK, where we fear and mistrust all that is European, most people have very little idea what the European debate actually is. They talk of losing sovereignty, but would find it very difficult to define sovereignty. Thanks to the indefatigable work of the national tabloids, most people believe sovereignty has something to do with having the Queen's head on our coins. Intellectual property rights are an example closer to Kuro5hin's heart. One of the key problems that opponents of overly restrictive IP law experience is getting anyone not involved to understand the issues.

Nobody Who Cares Understands

In representative democracies, the prevailing myth is that the people who get to vote on things represent the interests of the people who elected them. More often, however, they represent their own interests, which include maintaining their majority and the backing of their party and financiers. Even if they intended to vote in the peoples' interest, this would prove an impossible task. The people in power have got their by winning what is, in basic terms, a popularity contest. They have not been selected for their expertise and the sheer range of issues they decide on is far too wide for anyone to have deep knowledge of. Fortunately, the people who have actual power to formulate and implement policies are experts or have experts guiding them. These experts know the problem domains in which they operate. However, they themselves have problems.

Wherever there are experts, there is disagreement. Look at any science: Experts in these domains are expected to follow scientific rigor and methods to "prove" their conclusions. Regardless of this, many times you will find equally regarded experts disagreeing on various issues. Although all reputable biologists agree that evolution occurs, there is disagreement in exactly how this happens. Even in a hard science like physics, there have been numerous differing models of the atom in the last century. The point is that available data is limited and can be interpreted in varying ways. What seems right from one set of assumptions is entirely wrong from another. This applies to an even greater extent in politics. Even the question of whether a policy has been successful is contested. Evaluating the effects of any policy is difficult because it's impossible to know what data is significant, accurate or in existence.

The Status Game

Although many people believe in the structure of democracy, few seem to believe that the policicians currently in power are worthy of their position. This is easy to see since in party systems, majority tends to swing between parties on a more or less regular basis. As already stated, most people don't care who is in power, so long as they're not hungry. As in most human activities, the many are happy to be led by the few. This is an evolutionary response. Challenging for leadership is dangerous, but leadership brings status. In our evolutionary past and to some extent in our present, status meant more resources, both sexual and material. As has often been remarked, power is an aphrodisiac. However, since only a few can reach high status, it was often safer to exist as well as possible with lower status. This status response permeates society. Can't make it as a respected K5 poster? Become a reviled K5 troll. And, of course, no poster on K5 ever gets quite as much respect as Rusty, the founder.

Politicians become politicians because they are driven to the status of power. In the same way, businessmen are driven to the status of resources. This may not be - and probably isn't - their conscious reason. In a way it is the reason behind their reasoning. Most people do not have this drive for power and they don't care about politics (in any form - they are content to be somewhere in the middle, a little like gang members). The people who are interested in politics and argue about it are playing their own status game, in which good rhetoric and intelligent argument makes you a respected member of the community in which you argue. This is a status game of respect.

The prevalence of the party system is hardly a surprise in this status theory - it is another status system in which one can rise all the way from a mere representative to presidential candidate. Once a person has attained status, their primary concern is to keep it. Without status, a politician is nothing more than a voice, a suit and a lot of spin. It is interesting to note that politicians have devised ways of keeping their status high once they have exited the realm of politics. This is evident in the British system of honours and the transatlantic system of seats on trustee boards.

Ideology is Dying

An ideology is a system of ideas on how the world is, how it should be and how it can be changed from one to the other. As various political organisations gained power and attempted to implement their ideologies, it was found that some don't work very well. In the modern world with all its complexities, governments are becoming more worried about the whole chaotic system of society working at all than with implementing their own personal utopias. Besides, the people don't want utopias, they just don't want to be hungry. With all the problems of getting policies to work, the easiest solution is to copy other states when you can. This is partially a cause/effect of globalisation. As Europe grows closer together, state policies become more similar. What started off as a purely economic organisation has become very political. Long before, the majority of developed nations found that liberalism was generally a good idea. Most nations agree that drugs are bad things, although a few are edging towards decriminalisation.

In both the UK and the USA, there are large numbers of people who recognise that the two main parties of each respective state are increasingly similar. In the UK, the Labour party abandoned its public ownership policy and became New Labour. In the modern world, public ownership as a policy is no longer economically feasible. Ideology is now the realm of people outside power. It's a topic of argument and a way to see the world, but it no longer has a great effect on the policies that emerge from government.

Politics is Impossible

Politics in the traditional sense has been the discussion of ideology, the classic debates of free market versus controlled market, of individual rights versus the good of the state, of war, war, war versus jaw, jaw, jaw. In this sense, politics is becoming impossible. Although people may still argue these issues, and indeed these arguments are all around, these concerns have increasingly little effect on the manufacture of policies - it's too difficult to take flawed arguments into consideration whilst the nation must continue to run. The average person neither understand nor cares about politics; the interested person cares but does not understand; and the people in power did not get there by listening to what the people say.

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Poll
What is your attitude to politics?
o Boredom 19%
o Interest in the institution. 10%
o Interest in the arguments. 35%
o My ideology is right. 29%
o I am a politician. 5%

Votes: 89
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Kuro5hin
o Also by bobjim


Display: Sort:
The Impossibility of Politics | 82 comments (73 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
I have to agree (3.50 / 2) (#1)
by greenrd on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:42:46 AM EST

From my perspective, things are possibly even worse, because I believe in an impossible ideology: revolutionary socialism. It's no comfort at all to know that I share this boat with libertarians and anarchists.

However, to become a reformist - that is, someone to whom the very word revolution is anathema - is to acquiesce with an essentially anti-human system, namely capitalism. It is to give in at a fundamental mental level. Therefore, I continue to say - and not lightly - "Be realistic. Demand the impossible."


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes

I agree as well (none / 0) (#2)
by showboat on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:50:56 AM EST

It's no comfort at all to know that I share this boat with libertarians and anarchists.
I'm sure they don't think it's a picnic, either.

[ Parent ]
Sharing the boat (4.66 / 3) (#17)
by Rob u on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:30:13 AM EST

Not at all - as someone who floats between libertarianism and anarchism, I'd say it's obvious that something has to be done to fix the current system, but that it's much less obvious what exactly that should be. After all, political/economic systems that actually work (in the sense that I expect both anarchists and socialists mean) are hard to come by historically, so it's hardly surprising that different people propose different solutions to the same basic problem.

[ Parent ]
Corporations (5.00 / 1) (#53)
by Korimyr the Rat on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 05:35:29 AM EST

 Corporations, as tools of organization not unlike government, can be functional if recognized for what they are.

 A corporation is a legal fiction designed to allow hundreds or more unrelated persons to invest in and profit from a business-- and a legal protection for those citizens from the liability, should the corporation engage in negiligent behavior.

 By recognizing a corporation's essential nature, it is easier to create a legal environment in which the corporation, while not benevolent of itself, operates in a fashion which benefits society. The opposing beliefs that corporations are full "citizens" under the law, ot that corporations are pure evil, greed, and exploitation, both detract from our ability to use them properly as a social institution.

--
"Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein
Founding Member of 'Retarded Monkeys Against the Restriction of Weapons Privileges'
[ Parent ]

Um (none / 0) (#78)
by carbon on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:37:35 PM EST

A corporation is a legal fiction designed to allow hundreds or more unrelated persons to invest in and profit from a business-- and a legal protection for those citizens from the liability, should the corporation engage in negiligent behavior.

How is it that a legal fiction engages in any sort of behavior?


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
Fair Enough. (5.00 / 1) (#81)
by Korimyr the Rat on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 11:40:51 PM EST

 To be more specific, it provides a legal shield for the directors of the corporation, when they or their agents engage in negligent behavior, by allowing them to shift personal responsibility to "the corporation".

--
"Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein
Founding Member of 'Retarded Monkeys Against the Restriction of Weapons Privileges'
[ Parent ]
Power, not ideology (4.00 / 3) (#9)
by LQ on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 04:22:35 AM EST

Politics in the traditional sense has been the discussion of ideology

Politics has always been about power: my tribe to the fore. In the days of the industrial class struggle, it was more obvious. In the third world, it is still about raw power over the weak.

In the rich countries, the underclass has been so marginalised that all we're left with is mirror image politicos promising the middle classes more services for less tax.

There's several meanings to "politics" (none / 0) (#10)
by bobjim on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 04:52:27 AM EST

And yours is one: The authoritative use of power. Since the rise of the middle classes in the early 19th century, the discourse has been about ideology. First liberal, then marxist and now a whole load of them. Perhaps "traditional" was a bad word choice.

Of course, most of the underclass of the rich countries don't actually care much about politics. Nor do most of the underclass of poor countries. If you subscribe to dependency theory, that's because the ruling classes of both gang up on them.

Politics is authoritative power and ideologies are about who gets the power and what they should do with it.
--
"I know your type quite well. Physically weak and intellectually stunted. Full of resentment against women." - Medham, talking about me.
[ Parent ]

Your article. (1.50 / 2) (#11)
by Graham Thomas on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:18:09 AM EST

Economics, mathematics, and political science teaches us that to wish to transform holistic societies based on personal thoughts on political expediency is pure folly when looking at overall political situation, including socio-economic conditions, and the fact that these things are in a state of flux. Your article is mostly a sensationalistic rant with no real scientific or high philosophical backing. Well written, but fundamentally flawed.

Your comment. (none / 0) (#13)
by bobjim on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:05:24 AM EST

Could you be more explicit? Your first sentence seems difficult to parse. What I think you're saying is that it's "folly" to want to change large scale systems based on personal thoughts or needs. That this is because things, including socio-economics don't stay the same. And that there are examples in economics, mathematics and political science that show this. I could be wrong; I like more punctuation in sentences of that complexity.

In any case, I don't see the link between the first sentence and the rest of your comment. Did you think I was arguing that society should be changed? I'd like to know how you came to that conclusion. I also don't understand how you read my article as sensationalistic, what have I sensationalised? It certainly wasn't intended as a rant.

I'm not sure what you mean by "real scientific" or "high philosophical", but I would appreciate it if you'd tell me what these fundamental flaws are.
--
"I know your type quite well. Physically weak and intellectually stunted. Full of resentment against women." - Medham, talking about me.
[ Parent ]

Excellent Article, Wants, Needs, and Sacrifices (4.50 / 4) (#16)
by thelizman on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:59:56 AM EST

On my first day at university, the head of the politics department gave a talk to the few people who were doing politics degrees. He explained that in previous years and talks, he had asked the students if they thought whales should be saved. This always gained quite a large response. So, then he would lay five pounds on the table, explaining that it was to save the whales, asking the whale-saving students to do the same. Some people would do this. Next, he would lay another five pounds on the table. A few students would put in another five pounds. Very rarely, a few generous souls would equal his next fiver. Nobody ever went higher than that. The twenty pounds they'd contributed was less than the price of a good night out. As students, it was certain they'd be enjoying a large number of good nights out over the coming semester. Absolutely no-one, no matter how strongly they felt about the poor dying whales would ever give more than one night's entertainment for them.
Most uncharacteristically (for me anyway), I just voted +1 for this article on the merit of this paragraph alone. This highlights the problem with modern western civilization: Everyone wants something, but they don't want to sacrifice anything to get it. People want healthcare, but they don't want to give up their two CDs a month to get them. People want retirement, but they don't want to skip a night on the down to put money into an IRA. They want wealth, but they expect the government (and by extension, everyone else) to subsidize their standard of living). People want clean air, and they want everyone else to give up their SUV, but they aren't about to spend $1,200 to replace the catalytic converter on their Yugo (with the "Recycle Your Dead" bumper sticker). They sure as hell don't want to spend time figuring what candidates for public office share their views and then volunteer for them. But damned if they won't show up in downtown Seattle and toss a garbage can through Sachs front window to "express their anger over globalization".
--

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
I agree (4.50 / 2) (#25)
by greenrd on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:40:05 PM EST

Everyone wants something, but they don't want to sacrifice anything to get it.

I agree, this is a problem to some extent. Allegedly, the British public wants better public services, but not higher income tax. Also, because the media keeps telling them this over and over, it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. I think it's partly a case of the tail wagging the dog: the two main political parties don't really advocate raising income tax, and nor does much of the media.

They sure as hell don't want to spend time figuring what candidates for public office share their views and then volunteer for them. But damned if they won't show up in downtown Seattle and toss a garbage can through Sachs front window to "express their anger over globalization".

Haha, that's a good one. Next time you meet a member of the Black Block, try this: Ask them why they haven't volunteered to help with any of the candidates in their area (who have a chance at getting somewhere). I mean, there are such a huge range of choices, right? You've got Republicrats, Demopublicans, and....


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

I Like, Totally Don't Get It... (none / 0) (#43)
by thelizman on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:08:38 AM EST

So...what does tossing a trashcan through someones window accomplish? Personally, if I met one of these fucks I'd be kicking their ass...which explains the other half of that crowd...
--

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
[ Parent ]
Re: Sacrifices (4.50 / 2) (#26)
by bob6 on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:40:42 PM EST

I agree the excellent article. I disagree people won't make any sacrifice.

Let me bounce on the healthcare example and describe a situation that occurred in France a few years ago. This country is known to have one of the most socialized healthcare systems of the capitalist world. It was efficient in the sense it provided a large spectrum of medical services to almost everyone, including immigrants, tourists and bums.
Unfortunately it was draining a lot money from the government's budget. This problem was solved by a new tax paid from every salary. There were voices against the tax but it was globally accepted by the population. Why? Because the healthcare system worth it.

Actually I think people will make great sacrifices if any worthy return is guaranteed. Politicians' job is to make people confident of the return they get for playing by the rules (mostly by paying taxes).

Cheers.
[ Parent ]
Taxation = Confiscation, Not Sacrifice (3.00 / 1) (#42)
by thelizman on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:05:52 AM EST

You're talking about the state confiscating money and redistributing it. It's not sacrifice if you do not make a personal and willful decision to do it yourself.
--

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
[ Parent ]
Free will (none / 0) (#50)
by liberte on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 05:04:30 AM EST

If someone shoots at me, I'm not sacrificing, I'm being murdered. If a State takes money in my pocket, I'm not sacrificing anything, I'm being mugged.

By the way, I'm French and the problems of our healthcare system didnt vanish away after the new tax (10% of any income CSG+CRDS, no less!). It's still in deficit, and the debt is probably enormous as well.
Biographie
[ Parent ]

sacrifice (4.50 / 2) (#44)
by mdouglas on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:17:49 AM EST

>People want healthcare, but they don't want to give up their two CDs a month to get them...They want wealth, but they expect the government (and by extension, everyone else) to subsidize their standard of living).

i pay taxes. quite a lot of them in fact. the government already has my money, all i want is to have it transferred from the bs missle defense system column into the healthcare column. the money is there, the priorities are not.

[ Parent ]

Vice Versa (none / 0) (#73)
by thelizman on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 12:24:19 AM EST

I pay taxes. I pay quote a bit of it. I'd prefer the government worry about shooting down incoming nuclear wessels, and let my doctor worry about my healthcare. I pay taxes for the reasons outlined in the Preamble of the Constitution. I pay for health insurance so when I get cancer, they can chop my prostate out and send me home to die of infection (which is what the government would do, but they'd pay 300% more to administer the program).
--

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
[ Parent ]
Right (none / 0) (#74)
by wji on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 02:22:31 PM EST

We all know how American per capita health care spending is about half that of Canadian per capita health care spending, yet America scores higher on the health indicators.

Um, oh wait. It's the other way around on both counts.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]

Oddly, So Are The Waiting Lines (none / 0) (#76)
by thelizman on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 08:00:05 PM EST

Look, SFB...nobody is saying that Canada's healthcare system isn't good if you've got something that falls between a papercut and a kidney stone. If your liver falls out, or your heart explodes, pretty much everyone on the planet wants to be in America when it happens. I think perhaps we're on to something over here.
--

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
[ Parent ]
Seattle Anarchists (none / 0) (#75)
by wji on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 02:51:55 PM EST

Given that there were only about 200 garbage-can-tossers at Seattle, I have to wonder how NGO's get any donations. And Sach's wasn't targeted -- the N30 Black Bloc had specific targets, chosen mostly for very good reasons (if you really believe in property rights, you believe they apply to U'wa in Columbia, and that property stolen from them does not legitimately belong to the thieves).

I'm amazed, and a little insulted, at people who claim that the Seattle activists were in any significant part interested in property destruction. Do you think there'd be anything left of the city if that was the case?

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]

The problem with politics (4.00 / 3) (#18)
by IHCOYC on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:06:36 AM EST

One of the chief problems with politics from my perspective is that all political systems, and especially representative democracies, are weighted in favour of those who care. This sounds right and good until you consider the consequences.

You are a struggling kelp farmer. You write your congressman, who introduces a rider to some bill that creates an kelp subsidy, to help the struggling kelp farmer through tough times. Later, the kelp business turns around. Someone wonders if we still need a kelp subsidy. A bill to that effect may generate a handful of favourable responses from people generally concerned about government waste --- and every kelp farmer will be screaming about it.

What seems strange, but true to my experience, is that the problem is perhaps even worse with volunteer causes where no money is directly at stake. To take a recent example, consider the story that recently appeared here about Hacktivismo. These folks apparently create crypto and other programmes to enable people under repressive governments to communicate freely and access forbidden sites: a praiseworthy goal, to be sure. But in the featured interview, "Oxblood Ruffin" opined about his claim that the Chinese government created one of the Windows email viruses.

In short, he started coming off like a paranoid nutcase. All "activists," that is to say, all busybodies, seem to end up sounding like this sooner or later. After all, an "activist" is a person with an enemies list. "Activists" are people who are full of big plans that involve you whether you want it or not. "Activists" turn politics into a kind of cult: you're either behind our programme 100%, or you go on the enemies list. Government in which "activists" play a big role might even be worse than a government that's for sale.

The problem of democracy is indeed one of keeping enough people interested to provide a counterweight to the venal financial interests and the braying "activists" who will otherwise dominate. And government, in itself, is not very interesting. I don't look to any politician to provide meaning or direction for my life. As Frank Zappa put it, 'long as the trash gets picked up, government is doing what it does best adequately.
--
"Complecti antecessores tuos in spelæis stygiis Tartari appara," eructavit miles primus.
"Vix dum basiavisti vicarium velocem Mortis," rediit Grignr.
--- Livy

Counterexamples (4.00 / 1) (#27)
by greenrd on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:50:35 PM EST

"Activists" turn politics into a kind of cult: you're either behind our programme 100%, or you go on the enemies list.

Counterexamples are fairly easy to find, because many activists don't actually have a concrete programme as such that one can be be "100% behind". Moreover, the organisation of coordination of mass mobilisations like Genoa and Seattle was made possible by the willingness of impassioned activists to put aside their (often quite fundamental) differences to work together against a common enemy.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

I am a politician (4.88 / 9) (#19)
by the trinidad kid on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:20:36 AM EST

Many of your premises are simply flawed:
Very rarely, a few generous souls would equal his next fiver. Nobody ever went higher than that. The twenty pounds they'd contributed was less than the price of a good night out
You simply cannot argue that all actions and believes can be priced simplistically. Substitute one of the following for whales should be saved and you would get a similar result in cash terms in 'the experiment' you cite:
  • torture should be illegal
  • a war between India and Pakistan must be prevented
  • murderers should be jailed
Students are no more or less stupid than anyone else, they can spot someone on a stunt a mile off - and they are not going to lash out good money for it. I wouldn't have put anything in and I've worked man and boy in politics for years. In the 97 campaign I did 30 unpaid hours a week on top of a full time job for nine months.

So not everyone is politically active, so what, that doesn't mean they don't care about politics. I am very interested in eating meat, but I have been present at the killing of only one sheep for food - it is the functional division of labour - people are allowed to have lifes - that is one of the points of politics.

So some spotty herberts (like me) love working in politics, great, but without a genuine connection to the needs and desires of the electorate, we would never stand any chance of being elected.

You say:
In representative democracies, the prevailing myth is that the people who get to vote on things represent the interests of the people who elected them.
In the early 80s the UK Labour Party walked away from the interests of the electorate (whilst the Tories did the reverse) - the result 18 years out of power. Trust me, politicians neglect the interest of the constituents at their peril.

You say:
The people in power have got their by winning what is, in basic terms, a popularity contest. They have not been selected for their expertise and the sheer range of issues they decide on is far too wide for anyone to have deep knowledge of.
The job of politicians is to know how to consult, how to assess risk and impact and how to decide - not to be an expert. Plenty of people take decisions on subjects they are not experts in - it is a job and skill like any other.

You make vapid statements like Ideology is Dying which are just assumed to be true - are all governments in the developed world a-ideological? George Bush doesn't have an ideology? Or Tony Blair? Or Berlusconi? Or is it that some 'ideologies' pretend to be neutral and common sense, etc, etc? Your statement In the modern world, public ownership as a policy is no longer economically feasible is a perfect example - there being many mainstream politicians in the developing world who disagree with it.

On some things you are simply wrong:
As Europe grows closer together, state policies become more similar. What started off as a purely economic organisation has become very political.
The first European Community was the Coal and Steel Community - the purpose of this was to pool decision making on Coal and Steel production and thus allow Germany to re-arm without being able to secretly build the werewithall for a massive army as the Germans did first under the Weimar Republic (via the Rapallo treaty with the Soviet Union) and then under the Nazis - the European union has not been economic, but political from the start.

The goal of the 6 was clear from the start as it obvious from the Messina Declaration in 1955 - here are the relevant opening paragraphs:
The governments of the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands believe the time has come to take a new step on the road of European construction. They are of the opinion that this objectives should be achieved first of all in the economic sphere.
They believe that the establishment of a united Europe must be achieved through the development of common institutions, the progressive fusion of national economies, the creation of a common market, and the gradual harmonization of their social policies.
Politics is a socially necessary function and politicians are simply ordinary Joes who have an interest (and, yes, a thirst for power) who seek the 'charisma' that can only come from being annointed by the people through the ballot box. Your jeremiad is simply a negative poo-baa view of the world

What is quite interesting is how similar you sound to the many heid-the-ba trots I have come across in my life nobody cares except me implication: I'm interesting and important - people are realistic and different and have different interests - that's fantastic - it makes life worth living.


people really don't know or don't care (none / 0) (#29)
by Phantros on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:44:57 PM EST

The amount of time you are willing to volunteer towards politics is meaningless applied to citizens as a whole. Yes, you care, but beyond that, it is your hobby. You enjoy working in politics, just as someone else enjoys working with model trains, and another enjoys backpacking.

Likewise, whether the Labour party walked away from the will of the people or not is irrelevant. Most people vote based upon impressions and very little knowledge. Did you know that (since television has been around) whenever one presidential candidate in the US has been significantly taller than the other, that man has won? What does that say about the votings habits of the majority, that height means more than skills or beliefs?

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with
[ Parent ]

Oh, come on (none / 0) (#61)
by hbw on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 03:11:42 PM EST

Did you know that (since television has been around) whenever one presidential candidate in the US has been significantly taller than the other, that man has won? What does that say about the votings habits of the majority, that height means more than skills or beliefs?

I get the point in your comment, but that correlation is just shamelessly weak. It sounds more like a coincidence, than a signficant factor why one candidate gets more votes than the other.

I have discovered a truly marvelous signature, which unfortunately the margin is not large enough to contain.
[ Parent ]

Response. (none / 0) (#36)
by bobjim on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:16:39 PM EST

You simply cannot argue that all actions and believes can be priced simplistically.
It's not really fair to take the save-the-whales anecdote as an argument in itself. I'm aware that it oversimplifies the issue. The point it was trying to make was that everyone has a vast number of opinions, most of which they will not act on in any significant way.

Trust me, politicians neglect the interest of the constituents at their peril.
But there's a definite dichotomy between the interests of the people and the expressed interests of the people. If the government in the UK had taken any notice of the expressed interests of the people, it would have withdrawn from the EU long ago. What the people want is not what they need. However, in the short term, giving the people what they say they want gets votes. Certainly politicians have to pay attention to the people they represent, but this isn't their only concern by a long way.

Your statement In the modern world, public ownership as a policy is no longer economically feasible is a perfect example - there being many mainstream politicians in the developing world who disagree with it.
Sure, many politicians disagree with it, but as you've agreed, they're not experts and that they support public ownership doesn't make it any more economically feasible.

...the European union has not been economic, but political from the start.

"The governments of the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands believe the time has come to take a new step on the road of European construction. They are of the opinion that this objectives should be achieved first of all in the economic sphere."

All political economics is by definition political. The EU always had political objectives, but it began as an economic organisation and its political power has developed from that.
Politics is a socially necessary function
I'd agree fully with this. At present.

Your jeremiad is simply a negative poo-baa view of the world
The article wasn't intended to present any judgment on the system (as I see it). I don't believe it's negative or positive. The trouble is, it's analysis from a different viewpoint than most. As an analogy, you can see a human being as a collection of atoms or as an organism. Both views are valid and both tell us different things about human beings.

nobody cares except me implication: I'm interesting and important.
I actually tend to find the whole political debate terribly boring. What I find interesting is the structure and function of politics as a system and as an institution.
--
"I know your type quite well. Physically weak and intellectually stunted. Full of resentment against women." - Medham, talking about me.
[ Parent ]
Politics not impossible... (4.50 / 2) (#20)
by poopi on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:39:53 AM EST

To borrow from the environmentalist movement: "Think global. Act local." You may not have the power to sway a nation, but you may be able to affect your classmates, workmates or neighbours. If your concern is "intelectual property" summarize the debate onto single page and drop it into your neighbours mailboxes, leave it on your workmates desks and invite them to talk to you. You may not affect a change to the law but you've increased awareness, which may make a difference in the "popularity contests" mentioned above. The key word in "Think global. Act local." is ACT. When you look at the global issues they seem insurmountable, and make you feel inadequate but these same issues manifest themselves in your daily life and it is here where you can make an impact, however small it is. Not everyone needs to march in the streets. Not everyone needs to run for office. Do the little things close to home and the cumulative effect of all the people trying to "act localy" will be felt globaly. Oh and it will probably make you feel more hopefull about yourself, your society and the planet you live on.

-----

"It's always nice to see USA set the edgy standards. First for freedom, then for the police state." - chimera

lining their pockets. (3.80 / 5) (#21)
by animal on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:48:59 AM EST

I believe one of the reasons for apathy towards politics is that most of the politicians in recent years appear to be there to line their pockets with as much public money as they can get their hands on, and help rich and powerful people that will make sure they are set up with a nice job when they retire from politics.
 

That's for sure. (2.00 / 1) (#40)
by guidoreichstadter on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:19:03 PM EST

Whaddya say we make politicians spend their retirements as janitors?

poetic justice.


you are human:
no masters,
no slaves.
[ Parent ]

Leisure (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by Swashbuckler on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:49:20 AM EST

I use to get a good laugh at my buds who decided to do a degree in "Leisure Studies". WTF is that anyway? Leisure? Who can sleep/play/jerk-off the best? Hey - good question! What is "leisure"?

For some of us it's K5 and I think that's excellent.

It used to be that "leisure time" was much more challenging then "work" time. Leisure was the time that people invested into civic participation. When politics were local and happened mainly at the town hall. The most leisurely of citizens were the most informed; they invested time into to understanding the issues. Politics were not dull because they were local.

Your example of people not caring doesn't really fit. People's willingness/ability to contribute funds to "save whales" is not a good indicator or how much they care. However, I do agree with you, there is certainly less civic participation. You said, when you're hungry you will care. And again, I agree with you - when politics affects you directly, you care. In this light, "caring" is not the problem per se, its more "awareness" that's the problem. If people were more politically aware, they would realize that policy does affect them directly. I don't think it will come to "being hungry". I think, for example, when people start having to pay big $$$ for water they may realize; when gas prices go up they become aware; when K5 gets shut down there might be significant public opinion, etc. In this light I agree with you, democratic politics are impossible if there is no public awareness.

Now I'm a little fuzzy on the history, but somewhere along the line, perhaps modernization, creation of the middle class, etc, the general idea of "leisure" changed. People started "living". (1)Hippies - Fuck they system, I want to go play music. (2) Yuppies - Play the system, retire early and take up skydiving (or some other extreme sport). Whatever the generation, there is a giant industry based soly on what people do in their leisure time. Civic participation doesn't make anyone any serious coin (just ask Rusty), but it does increase public awareness and I assure you, awareness will lead to "possible politics", in the same way that "being hungry" will.

There has been a lot of "what's the point of all this" discussion on K5 lately. People asking, "does K5 make any difference"? Well it could. I think the purpose of K5 is not really to inform. It shouldn't make any pretensions to be a "reliable" source. But it does create awareness. I mean christ, if the geeks are talking about it, I should know about it. I would hate to give some snotty nosed little K5'er the satisfaction of seeming more "aware" then I! I like to think of K5 as the first step toward breaking the postmodern belief that progress is impossible. If everyones leisure time was just in part "becoming aware" then maybe politics would be "possible" as you said. I hope that wasn't too mastabatory...

I think that what you are saying is quite important. But I think its a political economic argument. The political process can not be carried out with such a predominant apolitical culture. It's important to realize that economics are not politics. The belief in "the market" to determine what is right, I believe, is the root of this problem and I think we are in the position to undermine economic power by facilitating and reestablishing public participation and the original notion of leisure.




*Note* - this comment contains no inside K5 humour because inside K5 humour is only for/by K5-wankers. Media does not = "community."
One problem (4.77 / 9) (#23)
by trhurler on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:16:10 PM EST

Overall, I tend to agree with much of what you said. However, aside from the whales stunt(another poster rightly pointed out that students aren't so stupid as to be totally unaware of what's going on before them, rendering the whole thing meaningless,) there is another problem with your view of politics.

It is true that in the short term, ideology does little or nothing in politics. It must be true; after all, as you say, there just isn't time for it. This does not mean that ideology does not influence the course of politics. In fact, it does more than that - it determines the course of politics over the long haul.

Consider: the original objectives(as stated in their party platform) of the United States socialist party have essentially all been met. Do you think that happened by accident? There was a massive swing towards collectivist statism during the 20th century, fueled by an ideology(socialism) that had its roots in the 19th century. Socialism's ultimate goals were not realized, but it had a huge influence.

The rising ideology of the 20th century was various forms of minarchism or anarchism, regardless of the details. From all signs, it is still on the rise, although it is being confronted with a rather strong fascist globalism as well(there are at least two globalisms out there, and they do not mean the same thing.) Notice that while we most likely will not implement minarchism or anarchism in full form, many of their tenets are now becoming "reasonable" in more and more peoples' minds(drug decriminalization, for instance, but we're also seeing an upswing in sympathy for gambling, prostitution, and other activities which, were they not criminal enterprises, could be victimless.) This also is no accident.

What is the motivating factor? Morality, and more directly, empathy and sympathy that results from morality. People who believed that it was wrong to make workers put in 16 hour days in unsafe conditions for almost no money and so on did not immediately have an impact - but over time, they did, because the politicians and "experts" who grew up in successive generations inherited that belief. Now, people who believe that it is wrong to put a guy in jail for smoking a bit of dope or betting on a poker game or renting his ass out are gaining influence, not directly - not so much by lobbying and so on - as by the fact that as they become more numerous, their morality - their beliefs - are absorbed(and admittedly reduced somewhat in strength,) into the mainstream, and the next generations of lobbyists, politicians, and so on have those beliefs as part of "the given" whether they realize it or not.

This is why it is worth arguing. This is what makes philosophy, politics, and related subjects worth your time. However, it takes a significant amount of thinking just to understand that motivation - which is why most people could care less. They've been trained from birth not to inquire too deeply into the world around them, after all. In the end, the intellectuals - even the wannabe intellectuals - have an immeasurably large impact on the world they live in - but it takes a long time. Never overestimate the short term impact of your words. It will approximate zero. On the other hand, it is equally foolish to think words don't change anything. Over the long haul, our ideas(explicit or otherwise) are our motives whether we realize it or not, and most people get their ideas from others, after all.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

And they give me ones. Just goes to show. (none / 0) (#28)
by Noam Chompsky on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:41:53 PM EST

The rising ideology of the 20th century was various forms of minarchism or anarchism, regardless of the details. From all signs, it is still on the rise,

On which planet? I'm sorry, this is important. You doubtlessly have facts and figures showing when the US was a greater police state than it is now. Let's see them. Start with the dwindling incarceration rate and end with Ashcroft's reign of civil rights.

--
Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!
[ Parent ]

Noam Chompsky can't read (none / 0) (#32)
by trhurler on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:29:19 PM EST

I didn't say minarchist policies have been implemented, anymore than I said socialist policies were implemented in 1875. What I said was, the ideology is spreading, in dilute form(just as socialism did,) into the general mindset of the public, and in coming decades, we can expect to see things like drug legalization and so on.

The real Noam most likely has greater reading comprehension skills.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Gotcha. (none / 0) (#33)
by Noam Chompsky on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:48:01 PM EST

For years, we have been thinking harder and harder about a thing, then doing its exact opposite. It's the "rising" ideology that manifests itself in a series of counterintuitive facts, and not at all the flourishing anarchist's juvenile contumacy and rebellion against parental authority. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, trhurler posts coment after comment in defense of the withering Republican State.

--
Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!
[ Parent ]

Hmm... (4.00 / 1) (#35)
by trhurler on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:25:22 PM EST

For years, we have been thinking harder and harder about a thing, then doing its exact opposite.
More or less, yes. Look at the history of the rise of socialism in the US(and yes, socialism did rise. As I said before, look at their party platform from the early days and then look at the US. They got the world they asked for; it just wasn't what they hoped it would be.) Did it become popular in its first 50 years of existence? Not really. A bit towards the end, but only in a very controversial way. Then it quietly dominated the 20th century.
and not at all the flourishing anarchist's juvenile contumacy and rebellion against parental authority.
When you get out of college, you'll find that there are minarchists and anarchists of all stripes, some quite wealthy and independent.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, trhurler posts coment after comment in defense of the withering Republican State.
You do a poor ubu imitation. He's much better at imitating himself, really. In any case, my insistence that the sky is not falling is hardly equivalent to wholesale support for everything that presently exists as it is.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Actually, lets do that. (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by Sanction on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:20:34 PM EST

Ah, the freedoms of the previous era.  We can start with radiataion and biological testing on non-consenting civilians, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Japanese American prison camps, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, etc.  It seems to be fashionable to always see oneself as a brave soul dissenting in the end days.  Although we may be on the road to some of these again, we aren't there yet.  The problem is, the attitude that we're in a police state now merely gives the public an easy way to dismiss your concerns as loony, since many of them are old enough to remember far worse.

Wow, This is the most amazing loaf of bread I've ever owned!
[ Parent ]
OK, I'll bite. (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by Noam Chompsky on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:21:44 PM EST

we aren't there yet.

I'm sorry, this is important. You doubtlessly have facts and figures showing when the US was a greater police state than it is now. Let's see them. Start with the dwindling incarceration rate and end with Ashcroft's reign of civil rights. What I'm looking for, specifically, is the trend towards trhurler's libertarian paradise.

Let me explain.

There has never been a "rule of law" for all of the population of the U.S. Varying proportions of the population have always lived in a police state, while others have enjoyed most or all of the rights and privileges described in high-school civics textbooks. I'm looking for these proportions.

Explain the administration's determination that US citizens can be held indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism without being charged, tried, or given access to an attorney. Explain why, in many states, petty theft is not bailable if there's a prior. Explain "three strikes" laws. Explain why parole is routinely denied because of the "severity" of the original offense. Explain the perfunctory and usually incompetent representation of criminal defendants. Compare this with the astonishing number of police organizations (FBI, DEA and all the state equivalents.) Explain the number of minorities in prison. Explain prison conditions that amount to torture under international law. Explain how the US has managed to build the gulag that makes it the number one prison state (by percentage of population imprisoned) in the world.

What will it take to convince you that the US is moving towards a police state instead of trhurler's minanarchy? Don't get me wrong; I think trhurler's politics would result in something a lot worse, but he doesn't share that opinion.

On your other point, without the hindsight of history, you cannot tell me whether we are better off today than we were yesterday unless you are in charge of what goes in the box labeled "better off." What I mean is, if I could travel back in time, I would have interesting things to say about yesterday's headlines.

--
Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!
[ Parent ]

20th: the State century (4.00 / 1) (#48)
by liberte on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 04:21:22 AM EST


The rising ideology of the 20th century was various forms of minarchism or anarchism, regardless of the details. From all signs, it is still on the rise,

During the 20th Century, there was: nationalization of ALL the previously privately owned central banks.
The nationalization of 80% of the healthcare systems.
The nationalization of MANY of retirements systems (in Europe at least).
There was a continuous rise in all form of taxations.
States became larger than ever, in Europe they weigh about 50% of GDP. Public debt is 120% in Italy, 60% in France, 130% in Japan and Belgium, and God knows how much in the USA.
There was 2 world wars, initiated by States. The second one was fought with Nazi Germany and USSR, both totalitarian States, where the individual is nothing and State is all.
By the end of this century, there has been a SMALL progress of minarchist~anti-gov ideas, but not EVEN in the US did the taxes go down (yup, they never went down in the US, even Reagan rose'em). And now there is a proto-worldstate being drawn within summits like the "Save mother Earth!" one in Johannesburg, and you tell me that the 20th century was a freedom century ?

Frankly the 20th century was really what Mussolini asked for: "the 20th century will the one of the State". He was f***g right, unfortunately.


Biographie
[ Parent ]
It's too early (none / 0) (#56)
by pyramid termite on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 10:29:29 AM EST

You sound exactly like someone in 1902 saying the Socialist party platform wouldn't get anywhere. The ideas of minarchists are still spreading, still influencing people. The recent referendums on medical marijuana would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, for example.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
A would-be politician (3.33 / 6) (#24)
by Hektor on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:39:04 PM EST

As far as I've been able to figure out, the reason why so many people are uninterested in politics, is because it is B O R I N G ! ! ! VERY boring. Who in their right mind wants to watch rivaling politicians overbid the opponent, and then patronize the viewers by claiming that "we have the only golden path", when all they have is a golden path that only differs from all the other golden paths is the weed next to the path; if even that.

It's boring. Why is it boring? Because those is power are not interested in loosing their jobs.

What would you rather watch:

  1. Politicians arguing wether health care should be 0.01% or 0.011%
  2. Politicians arguing over a complete remake of the entire public health care system
  3. Mud wrestling featuring Playmates
Personally I'd go for 3) for a few minutes and then switch over to 2). There's no way in hell, I'd spend time on 1) - and I'd like to be in politics.

This is also why people don't care. It doesn't matter if you vote for brand x or brad y - they both crappy (it's an example, not a representation of a two-party system), and they won't do what you want.

I'd like to be in politics for several reasons:

  1. Power; I'd like to be able to make a difference in the future of the world, and being a politician is a way to do that.
  2. Improving the system; not for myself. I would change many things in the current system (Denmark), that would affect me adversely, simply because it would be the right thing to do (from my point of view). Yes, that does sound like a load of crap, doesn't it?
  3. Changing the face of politics. Denmark has an average voter turn out of 75%, which is quite high for a 1st world democracy. I'd like to see the last 25% to go down and vote BLANK. If 25% of the elligable voters don't want to vote, we think it's because they're lazy; if 25% of the votes put in the ballots are BLANK, that would give politicians a VERY big hint that something is terribly wrong. 25% would probably be enough to become the biggest party in the Danish Parliment.
  4. I'd like to see just how long I'd be able to stay in politics, because I don't give a shit about "the party line", and I don't see why I should "do as I'm told", when that includes laughing at the Prime Ministers closing speech to parliment, where he addresses the changes the government has successfully pushed through parliment. (Did I mention that I'm a Social Democrat, and that's what the Social Democrats did during that speech?)
I'm interested in politics, but if I'm bored shitless during 95% of the discussions, what are the chances that the average Joe Dope would care more about those discussions than he would about the navel lint he just found?

No, the sollution isn't pop-politics, the sollution is me; me as dictator of the world. My first decree: Free pr0n for everyone!

Voting procedures. (none / 0) (#55)
by kvan on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 09:41:30 AM EST

I'd like to see the last 25% to go down and vote BLANK.
That's much worse! The voting procedure--at least in Denmark--is such that all ineligible ballots (including blank ones) are discounted from the final tally. When you see a reported voter turnout of X there were actually X+N people who turned in ballots, with N being the number of ineligible votes.

If people were to turn in blank votes, you would see a 100% voter turnout with all the votes distributed among the parties on the ballot. What you really want to do is convince the blank voters to stay home, as that would actually show in the numbers.

Even better, start your own party and convince them to vote for you. Hell, if you run on a free pr0n platform, you're definitely in the running for my vote! :P


"Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, most do." - Bertrand Russell


[ Parent ]
Not quite (none / 0) (#58)
by Hektor on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:23:57 PM EST

http://www.im.dk/Index/dokumenter.asp?o=23&n=1&h=11&d=1010&s=4

This tells you about the last election for parliment ; e.g.

The total number of eligable votors: 3,998,957
Voter turn-out: 87.15%
Number of cast votes: 3,484,9155
Number of valid votes: 3.449.668
Number of blank votes: 25,677
Number of other invalid votes: 9,570
Total number of invalid votes: 35,275
Percentage of invalid votes: 1.01

Lets manipulate those numbers:

The total number of eligable votors: 3,998,957
Voter turn-out: 97.3%
Number of cast votes: 3,890,985
Number of valid votes: 3,449,668
Number of blank votes: 431,747
Number of other invalid votes: 9,570
Total number of invalid votes: 441,317
Percentage of invalid votes: 11.04

The three biggest parties in the Danish parliment are:
Danish Liberal Party (Venstre): 1,077,858 votes
Social Democrats: 1,003,323 votes
Danish National Party: 413,987 votes

Now, those three parties would still be the biggest, but it would raise quite a few eye-brows, that more people voted blank than voted for the third biggest party. And this was only with a blank vote quotient of ~12 percent.

It is a common misconception that the number of invalid votes are evenly distributed amongst the running candidates, but that is not the case; invalid votes DOES NOT COUNT TOWARDS THE ELECTION RESULT. They are only slightly interesting because it is usually a very small number (the last time it was 35,275 votes), and this time it was only more than one party (Fremskridtspartiet) and the candidates running outside any political affiliation. It wasn't even enough to get a candidate in parlimen. Being the third largest recipient would get you somewhere around 15 or 20 parliment seats.

Are you still sure it wouldn't raise an eyebrow?

[ Parent ]

Not sure (none / 0) (#66)
by kvan on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 05:44:15 AM EST

I wasn't aware that the blank votes were counted separately, which is an argument against encouraging them: the only numbers the media report are the votes given to the various parties and the total turnout.

That said, I think that a dramatic change in turnout would be the thing that would raise eyebrows--whether we're talking increase or decrease is less important (there would be number of studies initiated to uncover the cause regardless).


"Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, most do." - Bertrand Russell


[ Parent ]
Well, to some extent. (none / 0) (#67)
by Hektor on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 12:31:25 PM EST

They usually say something like "there was so and so invalid votes, so and so blank votes and so and so percent couch voters (can't for the life of me remember the english term, but I'm sure you know what I mean)". They skimp on this, because it's roughly the same numbers each time, but you'd have to be a pretty stupid political commentator, if you just said "well, that's inconsequential" because it wouldn't be - it would be VERY consequential, because if you could somehow get the blank-voters to vote for a person instead, you'd have a big chance of usurping the ruling parties.

As a fun exercise - imagine that the fictitious amount of blank voters voted for Fremskridtpartiet ... Welcome to Nazi-Denmark ... or almost.

[ Parent ]

excellent (4.00 / 2) (#30)
by Phantros on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:12:12 PM EST

Very well written.

I'm of the opinion that very little in politics has a real effect on my life, and my ability to decide that effect is negligible. Use of statistics clearly demonstrates this: Let us say that congress (US, I'm American) wastes a billion dollars on a stupid policy. Now, that's less than $4 per person in the US, so they've wasted less than the cost of a meal for me. Now, let's say that in order to prevent that waste I would have needed to spend an additional 5 hours before the election educating myself about the related issues, and half an hour going to vote. I am then one in a million voters voting for one out of 435 congressmen. For 5.5 hours spent, I save a fraction of a cent. Economically, is this worth my time? (Yes, I recognize that some things can't be economically quantified like freedom, but you still can't escape the issue that I have a very small influence for the time spent. I also recognize that there are second-order effects from the loss to my fellow citizens which then has an effect on me, but they are difficult to estimate.) I educate myself about politics, but I recognize that I do so for my own enjoyment, and not because I have a realistic chance of getting a better government as a result.

Also, I believe that for most (not all) elected officials, it does not matter whether they are in office or not. They also have relatively little power and/or relatively moderate views. Sure, there are exceptions, both good and bad. Every once in a while a tyrant or an innovator comes along that might make a difference, but they're damn few. I've heard many complaints about Bush; I don't believe that Bush is very relevant. Many of his decisions are made by advisors, which may or may not be similar to the advisors that Gore would have had, had he been president instead. Also, Congress has the bulk of the power. In the US at least, the bureaucracy is too large for one man to have a strong say in the destiny of the country, even the president. If this were not true, the country would come to ruin every time a fool gets in office.

On a different note, bobjim mentioned loss of sovereignty, etc. I'd enjoy reading a story about politics and political views in the UK or other European nations, something very hard to find here in the US.

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with

on experts (5.00 / 7) (#31)
by acereks on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:53:39 PM EST

The people in power have got their by winning what is, in basic terms, a popularity contest. They have not been selected for their expertise and the sheer range of issues they decide on is far too wide for anyone to have deep knowledge of. Fortunately, the people who have actual power to formulate and implement policies are experts or have experts guiding them. These experts know the problem domains in which they operate.

I want to register my disagreement with this notion that "fortunately" our politicians have "experts" guiding them. There is a lot of vague handwaving here. What is the evidence for this claim? Is it the fact that the gap between rich and poor is absolutely staggering? Is it the fact that, in the "wealthiest" country in the world, we still have massive poverty, failing city schools, insufficient general healthcare? Maybe it's the arrogant foreign policy thats making us hated around the globe?

Look, I agree that surely there are some kind of "experts" behind our government's policies. But overwhelmingly, it seems to me that the "experts" our politicians are listening to are defenders of the interests of industry, and not defenders of the interests of the population. Look at the patently absurd Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and ask yourself who the "experts" crafted it for. Not us. Look at Bush's recent suggestion that we open up the national parks to more logging to "prevent more forest fires" and see if you can keep a straight face about it. Or just look at the tax laws, and ask yourself who they overwhelmingly benefit. I mean as everyone should know, the list goes on forever.

I think we should remember that this attitude, that we're too stupid to know what's good for us, and that the experts will take care of all the problems, is just what corporate interests hope for, and probably work to instill.

Of course there are hard questions--but before those come mostly easy ones, and in my view these havent been addressed. Should we have healthcare for everyone, whether or not it makes life harder for the healthcare industry? Yes. Should we have the most crowded and racial skewed jails in the world? No. Should we invade South American countries and install brutal dictatorships friendly to US corporate interests? No. I think these questions like these are just really obvious, and I think most people agree. It's just a convenient illusion to suppose that you need to be an expert for such questions--you just need a basic sense of what's fair. SY

Do politicians have common sense. (4.00 / 1) (#62)
by 668 on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 09:21:23 PM EST

In Australia, the Cabinet Ministers are the top echelon government ministers who make most of the decisions. The people spend 6 days and nights a week in small town in the middle of no-where that is stuffed with National monuments. They have body guards and most of their face to face contact is with their Ministries, professional lobbyists and other Cabinet Ministers.

I think the situation would be worse for the "Leader of the Free World". He is protected by the Secret Service, advised by high level advisors, surrounded by faceless bureaucrats, lobbied by diplomats and commercial interests and cheered on by his corporate buddies all pushing their own agendas. Furhermore he can just order the buttons on "the football" to be pushed anytime.

These people have a perception of common sense that has not in common with the common sense experienced by the majority of the population.

[ Parent ]

Not designed to be accessible (4.42 / 7) (#38)
by riptalon on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:44:28 PM EST

I'm afraid this seems rather like arguing over why battery chickens don't get more involved in the running of the factory farm. Politics isn't impossible, it just isn't designed to be a game for ordinary people to play, and with good reason. For the last several thousand years politics has been about rich elites squabbling for the reigns of power. The present systems came about when one ruling elite, the nobility was replaced by another, of rich merchants, from the late 17th century onwards. Notwithstanding recent attempts by the mass media to create an "alternate reality" where this system is benign, people has never had much say on who rules them, and no say on whether they should be ruled at all.

Any, one (ordinary) individual has absolutely zero influence over decisions that affect them in a representative "democracy". Very large numbers of individuals can have some effect on who is elected to rule them but this is not the same as affecting the decisions themselves. There are a whole set of filters that ensure that no one who would want to change anything could get elected. In particular the strangle hold the mass media has on the flow of information means that the people who control that media have more influence than the actual electorate. Even if, by some fluke, someone who wanted to change the status quo was elected, there are many mechanisms in place to ensure they would be unsuccessful (e.g. judiciary).

Politics is also dominated by two sorts of people. One is interested only in enriching themselves and their friends (the majority?) and the other is interested in what they think is best for other people (e.g. religious right). The ordinary person spends their time as the plaything of these two factions, one side steals everything they can from them, the other tries to make sure they can't enjoy what they have left. Politics is a competition to rule the population and whatever the nature of the competition, force of arms, popularity etc., the competitors will those with the greatest desire for the prize: power.

One major reason that the present system can exist, is the unaccountability and facelessness of it. Everyone can push the buck and in some senses the system is so large that no one (voters, politicians, civil servants) could be responsible for it. Likewise people who take decisions are well separated from those that carry them out, so that those that decide need no see the results and those that carry them out are 'just following orders'. The size of the system also works to separate the rulers from the ruled to an unprecedented degree. Not only are the rulers old, white and male but they are to a large extent insulated from the concerns of the general populous.

People aren't interested in these issues because politics exists, and therefore they have no say in them. In order to get people interested you first have to give people control over their own lives and just as importantly, take control of their lives away from other people. The people who make decisions should be the people who are affected by them, and no one else. This means a total dismantling of the state. The replacement would have to be built from the ground up by free agreement rather than coercion, with all power invested in lowest level. Real democracy can only take place in small groups, that can talk "face to face", where the "media" cannot interfere and everyone has a stake in the decisions being made.

These small groups (communities) need not necessarily be geographical in origin and a single individual might well belong to more than one group. These groups could cooperate, by free agreement, where necessary creating larger structures but these structures should not be an end in themselves, like the state is at present. Only when individuals have the freedom to reshape their lives for the better and are free of parasitic clutches of the ruling elite will you see much interest in "politics" among the general population. Until then politics will be out of reach of the majority, and as relevant to them as it is to chickens.



spot on yet again (none / 0) (#70)
by d0ktor on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 04:22:44 PM EST

You are spot on yet again Riptalon, as you were here: http://www.kuro5hin.org/comments/2002/8/20/35752/0211/90#90

It's interesting to read someone who's politics seem so far to be identical with my own. Sorry make a post just to say "I agree", I would mail you but you publish no email address.

Ross

BTW, Riptalon is an Affront ship name is it not?

[ Parent ]

Money and Politics (4.60 / 5) (#39)
by nemiak on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 08:01:42 PM EST

Giving money to a political party/individual is NOT a substitute for being involved in the political process.

This type of thinking is exactly what is wrong with the american political system.


Saving Whales (4.00 / 2) (#41)
by bugmaster on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:21:12 PM EST

I think the opaqueness of politics is one of the leading causes for apathy. For example, if my politics professor asked for a donation to save the whales, I would request a detailed report on how my money would be spent. First of all, I'd make sure that my donation won't simply end up in the professor's pocket. Then, I'd make sure that the donation will be spent on a venture that has an actual chance of success. For example, I would not donate my money to an organization which plans to replicate existing whales via quantum teleportation. I might donate some money to a research group which will decode the whale genome, however. I could go on, but hopefully you can see my point.

The problem with real-life politics is that it is nearly impossible to tell how my campaign donations and taxes will be spent. Even when financial reports are available, they are obfuscated to the point of total incomprehensibility. Most politicians throw around catchy slogans ("Save the whales !", "Save the children !", "Keep America rolling !", etc.), expecting me to jump on the bandwagon with cheerful abandon. Is it any wonder most people choose to simply ignore politics ?
>|<*:=

Saving Whales (5.00 / 1) (#60)
by br284 on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:39:27 PM EST

I would give my money to a plan that would take whales from the past oceans and use them to restock the supply of whales in the future. Bonus points for zipping around the sun so fast to go back to 1984.

-Chris

[ Parent ]

admit it brother (none / 0) (#77)
by memerot2 on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:03:46 PM EST

Even if you knew your few quid would actually save the whales you still wouldn't do anything about it. You can't care about something that makes no difference in your life.

[ Parent ]
Descry (3.75 / 4) (#45)
by xs euriah on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 01:19:03 AM EST

It seems your last paragraph, under the heading "Politics is Impossible,' is a bit too much like Zeno's Arrow.

Further, if there is nothing that can be done, what is to be done?

Unfortunately, you offer no resolution or even an indication of a way in which the problem you present may be addressed, solved, even leaned against.

You do, however, present a problem that seems to rise from armchairs throughout the West: can a suitable change come from the synthesis of general public apathy and the powered money/interest of (multi)national business interest? Public outcry has resulted in numerous changes throughout, if specified a time, the 20th century. Suffrage, Vietnam, even a more specific example, Srebrenica.

Further examples of the public wanting change can be found. The short terms of US presidents Carter and Bush I. Granted, the public was presented with a very limited alternative, but presented it was, and change, through the public's interest in their own lives through politics, occured.

I believe the same opportunity remains today, and will be seen again. Although I do agree with your view that there is less room today for grand change through grander deviations of ideology(s).

It's not impossible, just annoying (3.00 / 2) (#46)
by ka9dgx on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 02:14:17 AM EST

The current situation has gotten so bad with Republicrat vs Republicrat, that I'm considering running for President myself, just so I can give everyone someone to vote FOR, instead of against.

All of the devisive issues of our day are artifically so, because everyone is afraid a compromise is the beginning of a slippery slope. It just isn't so.

We can all just get along, and I'm willing to stick my neck out to do it, if necessary.

--Mike--

Politicians or politics? (none / 0) (#64)
by Gooba42 on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 01:49:18 AM EST

I'm not sure we're all so apathetic of politics as we are of politicians. We can discuss politics in great heated arguments and debates but when it comes to a political candidate we almost universally consider them all same ol', same ol'. You choose the lesser of two evils because that's the power you have.

Money makes so much difference in the political arena and we all know how sorely lacking the average person is in this regard. Grassroots gets a lot of talk, but in the end it burns out unless it's got a certain momentum and accessibility which issues like suffrage, civil rights, etc. easily gain but issues like DMCA lack.

[ Parent ]
this is one (1.00 / 3) (#47)
by auraslip on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 02:48:16 AM EST

of those storys where you make it your busness not to read the comments.
124
This might seem provocative (3.00 / 1) (#49)
by Cannonfodder on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 04:30:30 AM EST

I've discussed this issue many times and recently I got to thinking that perhaps democrazy would work better if fewer could vote. What if to vote you would be required complete a test of some sort? Of course what this test should exactly be or if the test would favor some politicians over other politicians make it rather provocative, along with the fact that you'll be excluding a lot of people.

Heinlien (2.00 / 1) (#59)
by br284 on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:37:26 PM EST

Or the only people who can vote are those who have put their lives on the line for the system that they are influencing. Since they have demonstrated their commitment to society through service, they are best equipped to protect and preserve that society.

-Chris

[ Parent ]

What kind of service? (4.00 / 1) (#63)
by Gooba42 on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 01:40:22 AM EST

What kind of service would we use as our magic determined as to who was worthy of voting? Military service has it's strengths and weaknesses in what sort of bias it would present in the voting system.

Is any government service "good enough" to weed out those we consider unworthy? Is being a garbage man a worthy service to society or do you have to rank higher in society?

And how long until we start giving some kind of kickbacks to corporations? We let DefenseCo Ltd. personnel vote because of the service they do for us in terms of defense contracts, but this produces a bias in favor of a more warlike state as well as a corporate agenda in the voting system.

If we could implement this in a fair way, it sounds perfectly reasonable but I doubt the ability of a government to choose good criteria for picking the next generation of government. The status quo is just too valuable.

[ Parent ]
Defense Contractors (none / 0) (#68)
by Korimyr the Rat on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 01:11:12 PM EST

 Shouldn't be qualified along those lines-- a service requirement would have to be direct service under the authority of the government directly.

 As for military or not, I think civil service should be accepted as well, particularly for those people physically incapable of military service.

--
"Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein
Founding Member of 'Retarded Monkeys Against the Restriction of Weapons Privileges'
[ Parent ]

Definitely a better approach... (none / 0) (#71)
by Gooba42 on Sun Sep 01, 2002 at 03:54:30 AM EST

Allowing civil service as a criteria is definitely a better approach but I think it's still incomplete in regards to the original suggestion that the voters must show a willingness to put their lives on the line for their government.

No point to this one besides stirring the pot.

[ Parent ]
:-P (none / 0) (#72)
by br284 on Sun Sep 01, 2002 at 09:35:26 PM EST

Read Heinlein before rating people a two, and you would have found that civil service was indeed a means of obtaining citizenship. In fact, it was the route that most people took in his books as they were unfit for military service.

-Chris

[ Parent ]

I assigned no rating... (none / 0) (#79)
by Gooba42 on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:56:24 PM EST

I didn't assign any rating to the post at all.

[ Parent ]
Not so much... (none / 0) (#80)
by Korimyr the Rat on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 11:38:54 PM EST

It's not so much putting your life on the line for the country, as being willing to put something into the country before influencing it.

 Civil service can do a lot of needed things, as well as free a pair of hands that could be more needed at the front.

 I must also confess my own bias in this matter, because I am physically incapable of military service.

--
"Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein
Founding Member of 'Retarded Monkeys Against the Restriction of Weapons Privileges'
[ Parent ]

randomized voting (4.00 / 1) (#69)
by Shpongle Spore on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 01:22:43 PM EST

How about this: everyone gets to vote, but only perhaps 5% of people get to vote in any given election. The voters could be selected by some completely random process.

Since everyone's vote counts 20 times more and they don't have to mess with it very often, I think they'd be a lot more inclined to put some thought into it when the time comes around--and I'd sure their non-voting put politically-inclined friends would be glad to help them make up their minds!

To make this work you'd have to publish a schedule of exactly when everyone gets to vote, so people know ahead of time when they need to start doing their homework, people know which of their friends to discuss political issues with, and candidates know who to campaign to. This sort of thing might also raise the level of political discourse by making TV advertizing less effective compared to direct mail (for instance), a medium that lends itself much better to communicating complex ideas.
__
I wish I was in Austin, at the Chili Parlor bar,
drinking 'Mad Dog' margaritas and not caring where you are
[ Parent ]

Everyone repeat after me... (2.66 / 3) (#51)
by B M on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 05:14:37 AM EST

We do not live in a democracy

We (those of us in 'western democratic' countries) live in elected an oligarchy. Simply, government by the few. I always found it interesting during political discussions at Uni that people would go on about the 'sham' elections in communist countries. 'They have elections but there is only one party candidate on the ballot paper'. Yet with the party systems now in place there are usually two names on the paper from parties with different names but basically the same policies.

The average joe cannot get elected to 'make a difference'.

Why don't most people care?
In Roman times it was said that the masses were ruled by bread and circuses. Keep there stomachs full and something diverting to look at. It worked then, it still works today.

Oligarchy (5.00 / 1) (#52)
by Korimyr the Rat on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 05:27:22 AM EST

And, in all of those Western societies-- none of them was designed to be democracy.

 The British parliamentary system is designed to function on two oligarchies-- the oligarchy of the bloodline and the oligarchy of the Pound.

 The American system, in rebellion against the British, dismissed the oligarchy of blood-- though it appears to be making a strong comeback as more political offices are held by people going into the "family business".

 However badly American oligarchy is getting out of control, though, I think that government by some form of elite is a useful and necessary portion of functional government. The main problem is finding the criteria for membership in this elite that does not lead to an imbalanced society in which one group of interests is pandered to to the harm of society as a whole.

 In the absence of any conscious, designed criteria, money is used as a default. And, when corporations are given the rights and privileges of citizens, they will easily accrue enough money to dwarf even the mightiest of individual citizens.

--
"Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein
Founding Member of 'Retarded Monkeys Against the Restriction of Weapons Privileges'
[ Parent ]

Oligarchy (none / 0) (#54)
by B M on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 06:26:19 AM EST

The main problem is finding the criteria for membership in this elite

Revolutions stem from peoples differing ideas on what these criteria should be.

The main problem is that people think we live in a democracy. Then ask why it doesn't work...

[ Parent ]

Politics is an unfair game... (2.00 / 2) (#57)
by Guizzy on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:05:08 PM EST

Politics is a game that is impossible to play for most. Do you realize that the most politised people theses days are quite young? Then maybe you can also realize that it has always been like that throughout history. As they grow up, people seem to understand that it doesn't matter how hard they try, they can't change a thing in politics. Since ignorance is bliss, they prefer to act as if things are allright and as if they don't need to bother too much with politics. Then, maybe they can move on to other things, like making their dreams come true and living a good life. All of our conversations about politics are useless; it won't change the way things are.

Timecards for politicians... (5.00 / 1) (#65)
by Gooba42 on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 02:01:57 AM EST

A moderately good solution to all this would be an easily accessible "this is what my congressman did for me *today*" website or publication. I'm an American obviously but replace "congressman" with whatever other title your representative goes by and you get the idea.

I want to see:
  • What my representatives are getting hourly; calculated by the actual amount of time they spend on the job, not based on some abstract estimate of (salary/~average hours per month)
  • Actual hours spent in the office, excluding breaks, lunches, etc.
  • Time spent in meetings with which special interest groups, etc.

This way I know who they're listening to, how much money they're wasting/spending and whether I personally think they're working hard enough for my money. If I'm stuck with them for the length of their term, I want to know I'm getting my money's worth.

We could go further and record phone conversations, meetings, etc. but someone would throw in "national security" and/or privacy for the politicians involved. At the state level at least, security shouldn't be the issue it would be at the national level. As far as privacy goes, if you're deciding things regarding *my* personal life, job future, etc. then your privacy is the least of my concerns.

my problem with politics in general (none / 0) (#82)
by logiterr on Wed Sep 11, 2002 at 05:42:23 PM EST

FYI i have no idea how to explicitly define politics. and i ramble in this piece. i should make it a diary entry ...

often there is no agreement on the nature of problems. when there is agreement, there is no agreement on an outcome. when there is agreement on the outcome, there is no agreement on the implementation that turns the problem into the outcome. among all this is a lack of basic or universal morality.

we can measure a political system by how it treats people individually and socially. look at how democracy and liberal capitalism go hand in hand nowadays. here it is up to the individual to see to it that their interests are foremost. and because of democracy any SIG can do some lobbying and generally make noise in order to raise social awareness. ideally personal and social awareness should be perfectly balanced. this is nothing short of living in harmony with nature or giving back to nature what you take from it, the symbiotic relationship. if a half of the relationship becomes heavy the other half is strained.

most theistic and atheistic belief systems recognize these problems in the balance of personal and social awareness (which we can extend to encompass the entire eco-system). to me politics has always been the science that strove to solve this problem. but you see. even while we can accept the problem, formulations of an outcome are met badly and implementations are often unadapted to the environment they are tried in.

anyways. the problems escalate because half the time we are involved in flame wars that have no end. who's religion is best? my religion is the only one that offers the correct path to salvation? any good religion regardless of its interpretation or implementation strives for similar enough goals. so similar in fact we might as well call them the same. they have different names sometimes contradictory but this should be a mystery to us. paradox follows our perception. we see paradoxes because of how we choose to think about the world and how we choose to see the world. is it heaven? is it nibbanna? does it matter? the reason i talk about religion here is i am using religion as a political system that incorporates its particular brand of ethics. and many times the path prescribed by a religion is one that ends in a perfect balance of social and personal needs/wants/concerns etc.

i should just shut up. you know? i dont know jack about politics. i didnt thoroughly read the story. and i am so completely biased by 9/11 and my own personal views of reality that i cant make an objective comment. sorry.

The Impossibility of Politics | 82 comments (73 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
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