How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics,
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.
——————-WB Yeats -1938—————
Politics has always pervaded human intercourse, from the cave to the forum. We are instinctively political actors no matter the stakes or our understanding of the the issues. Our affinity for it begins in childhood, dominates our teenage years, and hardens into beliefs that stay with us for the remainder of our lives. Of course some people change their politics as they age, but the manner of their conversion highlights the nature of their belief. A change in political alignment is cousin to St Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus. It is a religious conversion rather than the result of reasoned analysis.
That politics is yet another religion is underscored by its division by ideology not grounded in evidence or impartial inquiry. A cult becomes a religion when its believers exceed a critical mass. Miracles are a feature of most religions. The newest of these is the voluntary transition from one sex to another as though humans were clownfish. Another trait of religions is their intolerance to disbelief by non-adherents.
While those at the top of a hierarchy may be learned, virtually all the other members of the faith are generally ignorant of anything not immediately connected to the common dogma. The religious nature of politics in the West is not only exemplified by miraculous concepts of gender, but also by the conversion of science to sanctity. The study of the long term evolution of the world’s climate, a subject layered in uncertainty, has been simplified into the apocalypse. We are all doomed unless we sacrifice to the weather god. These sacrifices include fossil fuels, nuclear energy, meat, and humans – especially at the beginning or end of their lives. At the other extreme, rare species are sacralized and deemed worthy of extreme resuscitative efforts irrespective of cost or disruption to the entire population.
The perpetuation of politics, like any other religion, requires ignorance on the part of the vast majority of it acolytes. The requirement of ignorance is necessary for the avoidance of inappropriate or embarrassing questions. Thus, the long history of suppressing literacy, performing rites in a language not understood by the large majority of adherents, and mysteries confirmed only by faith. The United States has long proclaimed its separation of church from state only to have embraced a new altar disguised in the garb of party political. The state and church may be separated, but the state, in the view of many, is now indistinguishable from the church.
Human interactions with both the world and other humans have always been complex. But the development of a globally connected society with technology that advances at a quicksilver pace superimposed on a highly manipulated economy creates an environment that obeys laws and principles that have yet to be discovered results in constant chaos. The fiction that an informed electorate will choose politicians who both know what they are about and act with disinterested coolness in pursuit of the common good is beyond preposterous.
The issues confronting the modern world are of such intricacy that comprehension is as rare as astatine. Those charged with the regulation or control of our most important systems are faced with an impossible task, yet they soldier on from catastrophe to disaster to debacle. And if they’re office holders subject to the franchise we often reelect them.
Politics has been called the art of the possible. In reality, it’s the mess of the impossible. Dong nothing is often the best path toward, if not a solution, an accommodation. But inaction no matter how apposite never appears on the list of possible reactions to a crisis. Interestingly, those charged with a solution are often the perpetrators of the problem in need of relief.
Consider the Federal Reserve. They are the arsonists now promising to douse the fire they started. Of course, they had accomplices. The politicians who bribe their way into office through the programs they fund in the guise of justice and which they know will eventually collapse like an apartment building in an earthquake zone that did not meet the requirements of the building code. They base their careers on the hope that the tremblor will come later on somebody else’s watch. The two party system in the US exists so one party can blame the other for the next disaster.
The animating factor of American politics is fear. Each party seeks to terrify enough voters into casting a ballot in their favor because the opposing party seeks their annihilation. Climate change is not a problem requiring careful study and reasonable intervention; it’s an existential threat. The real message – vote for me or we’re all going to die.
The US defense budget is greater than those of the next nine largest countries combined, yet our military is said to be massively underfunded. Translation – raise the budget or the Russians will be at the outskirts of Madrid while the Chinese occupy Hawaii. If you demur in the slightest you’re a stooge of Putin or an acolyte of Xi Jinping. A lot of money can be spent to alleviate fear.
That the law was made for man, not the other way around, seems to have been forgotten about the time Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. Politics as torture explains the meek acquiescence to government repression that characterized the response of most of the West during the late epidemic. I prefer Yeat’s take on the issue.