Last year I wrote a post--Why Politics Sucks.
One year on, I reconsider my views.
Christopher Hitchens in the introductory essay to Love, Poverty and War, states that there is no refuge from politics; even a life hermitically devoted to poetry, music and literature will have the cruel wind of the world intrude. A few weeks ago, I was asked, why study politics? I replied that everything about our lives is, essentially, political. That, every time you criticise someone’s actions or some social policy or promulgate some ought - “I believe we need to cut teenage pregnancy” “We need more jobs for British people” you are engaged, whether you know it or not. in politics. An interest in politics, is, probably, an interes, or a concern with power. Those who wish to change the world, or keep it the same, want implicitly or explicitly power. As Bertrand Russell pointed out, people who do not desire power or who are indifferent to their fellow man, are either mystics or lunatics. The Ancient Greeks had a name for persons not interested in public affairs--they called them idiots or idiotes
So, me being a very opinionated person, apt to criticise his fellow man, and equally willing to instruct him in matters political, ethical and religious, it is no surprise then that I have a interest in politics. However, it is an ambivalent relationship. I have no real interest in the grind of daily politics, or in politicians themselves. I prefer ideas, big ones, many of which were first thought and argued over by the Greeks, but mere contemplation and disputation of ideas without practical resolutions is vacuous and, ultimately, pointless.
Last August I decided to attend University. It was not a easy decision, however, the degree I signed up for was rather easy to choose. Why? In many ways, I am committed to a rather old fashioned idea of an educated gentleman: - one who educates himself in as many matters as possible, literature, culture, science and history. For me to have selected either a English degree or a science degree would have, I felt, limited me. That of course, does not mean to say that there will be no specialisation or hair splitting distinctions and arcane terminology in the degree I chose, indeed, far from it.
One of the issues I am interested in is the relationship between politics and science. For me there needs to be more of the scientific mindset in politics: a politics more clearly based upon empirical fact rather than feeling or intuition, and what the press wish. So, studying politics, perhaps, allows me to think and address these questions with greater freedom. I should say I wished to do a joint degree in philosophy, but could not because of clashing timetables, to digress a little, I believe in the Russell/empirical/ Quine model of philosophy as a extension of the natural sciences. That good philosophy be science enabling and science extending, for me, personally, I believe that philosophy can play the valuable role of midwife to a new politics, one based on reason, science and empirical research.
What a year in politics it has been! Many time I said to myself, that this is my political baptism. Firstly there was and is the economic meltdown. I know little of economics, an ignorance I intend to rectify. It would seem, that economic reform will be the dominant theme of the next decade, after global warming and Islamic fundamentalism.
Palin, Obama and the US culture wars.
I don’t know which is more important or surprising, the election of a black US President or the Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin-- fundamentalist Christian and conservative darling. The culture war in America was especially virulent during the election, taking on an almost hypnotic pornographic quality. A major question that is occupying my mind - is the election of Obama a blip? Will Palin come to symbolise the America future? Fascinating questions, my suspicion is that we have not heard the last of Palin
Israel and Gaza
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza was in many ways a pivotal moment. I have always been interested in this dispute, now over 60 years running. It is in many ways a ground zero of all the ways humanity can go wrong. I am not, like so many liberals or leftists, (indeed I repudiate such terminology for myself,) “hostile” to Israel. I put hostile in quotation marks for it is a blatant understatement of the rancour, hatred and sheer lunacy of writing, opinion, and hand wringing over Israel. I do not have space to fully itemize or explore this issue, but the commentary, opinion and news reportage by the Guardian, BBC and other left/liberal magazines and writers was shockingly misinformed, wildly irrational and borderline anti-Semitic. This is a issue that is, and will be endlessly fascinating.
Pakistan, Iran and Islam
Islam exploded onto the world scene (or the western scene) on 9/11, this issue is, perhaps, in my top three interests. I have been following Islam in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Europe for the past several years. This is going to be, I believe, the number one political issue after global warming. Among the man questions that need exploring and answering: - are the West and Islam locked in a clash of civilisations? Can Islam reconcile itself to secular modernity? If there is a clash, who will win? Who is better equipped to win? Will Pakistan go under a Taliban like rule? Will Iran modernise? What role will British and European Muslims carve out for themselves?
Political reform and the Expense Scandal.
Returning to domestic politics, everyone is engaged in the expenses scandal, and Gordon Brown’s woeful reputation in the country. I prefer to look deeper, there is chance for some real reform--but will it happen? I don’t want a conservative government, but it seems inevitable if Brown stays. The only party that seems committed to the kind of reform I want to see is the liberal democrats, slim chance of them getting power however, though, a partnership with labour if a hung parliament results from the General election is possible.
What is needed
It has been a tumultuous year, not just for me but for politics in general, politics may “suck” but there is no escaping from it. Humans today have enormous power, we are in a position to influence and control events that no group of humans before us ever conceived possible. I believe that the enlightenment hope of a better world (one that has come under sustained attack) is a project that needs to be fought for and extended. We need to continually break down the barriers of division and irrationality, to grow the moral circle, and to educate and improve ourselves. We need greater international co-operation, a world government, a properly armed UN with a mandate to intervene in cases of genocide and mass murder. A commitment to extending and developing global human rights, social justice and the eradication of poverty. A universal education and politics based on reason, in short, enlightened cosmopolitism.