...the following link to an essay penned by Trevor Burrus and Aaron Ross Powell posted via The Libertarian Library on September 14, 2012.
I'm posting the essay here at Usually Right - interspaced with my commentary, of course:
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Even if we try to ignore it, politics influences much of our world. For those who do pay attention, politics invariably leads in newspapers and on TV news and gets discussed, or shouted about, everywhere people gather. Politics can weigh heavily in forging friendships, choosing enemies, and coloring who we respect.
So far, so good; no disagreement as yet!
It’s not difficult to understand why politics plays such a central role in our lives: political decision-making increasingly determines so much of what we do and how we’re permitted to do it.
Again... alright... I'm with the authors so far.
We vote on what our children will learn in school...
We do...?!?! Since when...??? I never have. The most I can do is vote for School Board members whose direct policy responsibilities encompass an effect upon perhaps 2% of the school budget (around 98% of school spending is mandate-bracketed to one extent or another) and who have basically nothing to do with curriculum setting.
...and how they will be taught.
Again... not quite sure where the authors are getting this from - but it's not true.
We vote on what people are allowed to drink, smoke, and eat.
No... actually our representatives do - often, in my opinion, illegitimately claiming this power... and almost always getting away with their power grabs.
We vote on which people are allowed to marry those they love.
Actually... direct referendums are few and far between.
In such crucial life decisions, as well as countless others, we have given politics a substantial impact on the direction of our lives. No wonder it’s so important to so many people.
But do we really want to live in a world where politics is so important to our lives that we cannot help but be politically involved? Many, both on the Left and the Right, answer yes.
And frankly, they're wise to answer yes - at least in the sense that if we have government in the first place, it's best for the People to have at least theoretical control over government and a voice in decision-making effecting private citizens. Where the debate properly lays is the size, scope, and limitations imposed upon government power - of which I believe there should be many!
A politically engaged citizenry will not only make more decisions democratically but also be better people for it.
This depends. It depends upon whether the People - or should I say a transitory majority of the People - have their power properly constricted by the Rule of Law. (America was founded as a Republic - not a Democracy - deliberately and for good reason!)
From communitarians to neo-conservatives, there’s a sense that civic virtue is virtue — or at least that individually we cannot be fully virtuous without exercising a robust political participation. Politics, when sufficiently unconstrained by crude individualism and sufficiently embraced by an actively democratic polity, makes us better people.
Er... it depends.
Seriously... I'd have to hear specific scenarios laid out by the authors in order to give a fair up or down response to their last paragraph.
Yet the increasing scope of politics and political decision making in America and other Western nations has precisely the opposite effect. It’s bad for our policies and, just as important, it’s bad for our souls. The solution is simple: when questions arise about whether the scope of politics should be broadened, we must realistically look at the effects that politics itself has on the quality of those decisions and on our own virtue.
Politics takes a continuum of possibilities and turns it into a small group of discrete outcomes, often just two. Either this guy gets elected, or that guy does. Either a give policy becomes law or it doesn’t.
Ah... but now we're back to the issue of "Constitutional Republic Under the Rule of Law" vs. "Democracy." I believe that there are many, many, many decisions that government has no business sticking its nose into. There are many laws on the books that I don't consider legitimate laws. This goes beyond simply "policy preference" or "personnel preference" to the central question of what are the proper limits of governmental authority even assuming said authority is in line with the "popular will."
As a result, political choices matter greatly to those most affected. An electoral loss is the loss of a possibility. These black and white choices mean politics will often manufacture problems that previously didn’t exist, such as the “problem” of whether we — as a community, as a nation —will teach children creation or evolution.
Oddly, many believe that political decision making is an egalitarian way of allowing all voices to be heard. Nearly everyone can vote after all and because no one has more than one vote, the outcome seems fair.
Again... a very large and complicated topic to deal with. Obviously the authors "get" this (or else why write "seems"), so I'll continue reading rather than try to respond to the authors' contention at this point.
But outcomes in politics are hardly ever fair. Once decisions are given over to the political process, the only citizens who can affect the outcome are those with sufficient political power. The most disenfranchised minorities become those whose opinions are too rare to register on the political radar. In an election with thousands of voters, a politician is wise to ignore the grievances of 100 people whose rights are trampled given how unlikely those 100 are to determine the outcome.
The black-and-white aspect of politics also encourages people to think in black-and-white terms. Not only do political parties emerge, but their supporters become akin to sports fans...
Oh, yeah! On this one the authors have reiterated one of my own most common complaints concerning how human nature impacts politics and thus policy-making!
...feuding families, or students at rival high schools. Nuances of differences in opinions are traded for stark dichotomies that are largely fabrications. Thus, we get the “no regulation, hate the environment, hate poor people” party and the “socialist, nanny-state, hate the rich” party — and the discussions rarely go deeper than this.
True... and regrettable... but again, the "cause" of this isn't the two-party system; the "cause" is sheer human nature!
People are stupid... selfish... unsophisticated... ill-educated... stubborn... and so on and so forth. Not all share all - or even most - of the ills I've mentioned, but far too many do.
Politics like this is no better than arguments between rival sports fans, and often worse because politics is more morally charged. Most Americans find themselves committed to either the red team (Republicans) or the blue (Democrats)...
True... but on the bright side, a plurality of Americans are registered neither Democrat nor Republican, but "Independent."
On the dark side... in order to "impact" elections from the bottom up it's often necessary to be a registered party member in order to take part in actual candidate selection, party platforms, etc.
...and those on the other team are not merely rivals, but represent much that is evil in the world.
Not to be picky... but I'd prefer use of the word "bad" as opposed to "evil."
To further narrow it down, I'd like to add the word "policies." As in "bad policies" vs. "evil policies."
Politics often forces its participants into pointless internecine conflict, as they struggle with the other guy not over legitimate differences in policy opinion but in an apocalyptic battle between virtue and vice.
For the dullards... sure. But obviously for the rest of us there are degrees... there's reasoned "compare and contrast" involved in the ultimate decision making. In other words... "greater good" can equate with "lesser evil" and most often it does!
How can this be? Republicans and Democrats hold opinions fully within the realm of acceptable political discourse...
Many do... but many don't.
...with each side’s positions having the support of roughly half our fellow citizens.
Ah... now we come to another MASSIVE misunderstanding of reality!
Here's the problem with the authors' above contention: Both sides distort their own positions AS WELL as their opponents'! Therefore, unless one is fully engaged, sophisticated, knowledgeable, bright, and reads A LOT... the average American believes quite a lot about "their team" and "the other team" that just.. isn't... true..! And, folks... this skews the outcome of Democratic governance. It skews it badly.
If we can see around partisanship’s Manichean blinders, both sides have views about government and human nature that are at least understandable to normal people of normal disposition — understandable, that is, in the sense of “I can appreciate how someone would think that.”
Well... yes and no. For example, I recently referred to my friend Rob as "deranged" because he refuses to acknowledge that the Obama administration "lied" about the Libyan "incident" and its cause. I don't "appreciate" how Rob can think this. I don't understand how Rob can think this. And of course on certain topics Rob no doubt feels that I am the one who is "deranged."
But, when you add politics to the mix, simple and modest differences of opinion become instead the difference between those who want to save America and those who seek to destroy it.
Back to Rob... funny thing... just this morning he and I were discussing the meaning of the word "destroy" in the political context.
Bottom line... if one feels that "fundamental change" is "destructive"... well... then using the word "destroy" makes sense. (And the same for those who view "staying the course" or "adhering to tradition" as "destructive.")
This behavior, while appalling, shouldn’t surprise us.
But it's not necessarily "appalling." Often it's simply "shorthand" for complex, multi-faceted beliefs, assumptions, and analysis.
Psychologists have shown for decades how people will gravitate to group mentalities that can make them downright hostile. They’ve shown how strong group identification creates systematic errors in thinking. Your “teammates” are held to less exacting standards of competence...
True for most people to a greater degree than not... but less - much less - true for me. (Or for Rob for that matter!)
...while those on the other team are often presumed to be mendacious and acting from ignoble motives. This is yet another way in which politics makes us worse: it cripples our thinking critically about the choices before us.
Again... not to toot my own horn... but my critical thinking is just fine. (Indeed, superior to most!)
(*WINK*) (*HUGE FRIGGIN' GRIN*)
What’s troubling about politics from a moral perspective is not that it encourages group mentalities, for a great many other activities encourage similar group thinking without raising significant moral concerns. Rather, it’s the way politics interacts with group mentalities, creating negative feedback leading directly to viciousness.
Obviously the authors have never been to a Yankees vs. Red Sox game at EITHER Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park...
Politics, all too often, makes us hate each other.
Umm... more in the abstract than in reality. In the real word reasonable people maintain friendships - and certainly family bonds - with those who differ from them politically. This "hate"... as a real emotion directed at real, specific people... is the exception - not the rule.
Politics encourages us to behave toward each other in ways that, were they to occur in a different context, would repel us.
Speak for yourselves, boys...
No truly virtuous person ought to behave as politics so often makes us act.
With all due respect... this "us" the authors refer to isn't me. Oh, sure, I can be (and often am) a condescending prick when it comes to politics, but "hatred"... "viciousness"... no... when push comes to shove... well... actually "shoving" is the exception, not the rule.
While we may be able to slightly alter how political decisions are made, we cannot change the essential nature of politics. We cannot conform it to the utopian vision of good policies and virtuous citizens.
Who said most citizens are virtuous...? (And how is "virtuous" to be defined?)
The problem is not bugs in the system but the nature of political decision-making itself. The only way to better both our world and ourselves — to promote good policies and virtue — is to abandon, to the greatest extent possible, politics itself.
Speaking of utopian visions...
No. Just the opposite. Americans must become more engaged, better informed, indeed proactive! Americans must "take back" our country from the politicians who are slowly but surely destroying it.
"Power" is the key and whether we're talking Republicans or Democrats, Left or Right, we must take power away from the politicians and return to the ideals of the Founders and the blueprint of the Constitution!