Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Meaning of Politics

I wonder why keep going back to politics. Surely if the ultimate goal was finding “truth”, I could choose other fields to go about it?
Nicer fields, more popular, more “people friendly”… more compatible with earning a living and actually living a life. More “womanly”. Like history of art, or literature. Or even philosophy.

I have a complex about not being more “womanly”. And my obsession with politics doesn’t help. When I say to people that I want to be a writer, they inevitably ask me “what do you want to write?”. And at that moment I know that I would have a much easier life if the answer was “well, I want to write about nature and surrealism” or “postcolonial history” or “romance in Victorian England”.

But no. What I want to write is politics. And to make matters worse, my answer never takes the form of “well… *whispers demurely* politics”. Oh, no! What I say is “Politics!”, with a strong emphasis on the “P”.

It’s not that I’m not interested in other fields. I’m passionate about philosophy, and I really enjoy Fantasy. That’s all well and good, but when I go back and read something like this, clear, to the point, and aimed unapologetically towards changing the world, I get a feeling of “THIS! THIS! Say no more!”.

Other fields are… you know… interesting. And you can read about them for ages. It’s all very instructive; you do expand your mind and your consciousness and as a result you can better appreciate the world around you. This, I believe, may be the reason why we humans have this compulsion to learn, to understand: because it allows us to experience more of the world. It’s like opening new eyes and seeing something for the first time, even though you may have seen it many times before. Now that you understand how trees grow in forests, you don’t see those trees you passed everyday in the same way. They are now richer, fuller.

Yes, learning is fascinating. I could easily spend my life doing it.

But politics? Politics puts “humans” at the centre. And I mean “humans” with an “s”. Politics has a very clear goal “we live better”. I’m not speaking Tarzanian here. Politics is the language we use to say to God, the Universe, those in Power, ourselves, that “we” are going to “live better”. No apologies.

As fun and enriching as learning is, politics is not learning for learning’s sake. It wants to change things, and unlike other fields, it measures its “usefulness” by how much it cares about people, and how much it improves their lives. It is the practice of medicine on society.

It has a strong moral component: it says “this is wrong”. And it’s not interested so much in finding “absolutes”. Politics says “this is wrong because it’s bad for people, see?”. What guides us is a moral compass we are more interested in using than finding and defining.

Too often politics is about saying what we all feel and know, but no one has the guts to spell out loud. As such politics is intrinsically “honest”. It is the direct articulation of our wants and needs in a social level. It is the demand for our wants and needs to be recognised and met.

And that takes guts. It’s one thing to say “I need this”; quite another to say “we need this”. And another still to say “we need this and you better give it to us”.

As for why I keep going back to politics? I have been blessed and cursed by a childish ingenuity and hopeless outspokenness to point to the Emperor and denounce his absence of garments.

And that’s why politics has chosen me as one of its many writers.  

Note: Re: this whole post. Don't ask. It was midnight, I suddenly get the urge to start writing and this is what comes out. 'Cuz, ya'know: I'm a writer.


smashesthep said...

I like it!

Your sentiments ring true for me. In particular,
"What guides us is a moral compass we are more interested in using than finding and defining."

I personally went to graduate school to study philosophy (with an emphasis on ethics) and one of the main reasons I left was because we spent too much time analyzing the good rather than DOING it.

I wonder about your thoughts on the difference between politics and politicians? I think of the latter as compromised, generally speaking, and I have been wondering if that is because ideals in practice are bound to get muddy particularly when a lot of power is at stake(watching the tv show The Wire gives an insight into politics gone astray, but it's certainly not feminist so I don't endorse it).

What are your thoughts on the difference between politics and politicians, and their relationship to ideals in practice?

Mary Tracy said...

Smash, the laws of narrative causality compel me to quote Marx here.

"Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."

Re: politics and politicians, you do know that you are asking me an impossible question, don't you?

At the moment, most politicians suck. But so do their politics. And it tends to be the case that the best politicians are grounded in the best politics.

I don't know what the answer is. Politicians will only be as good as people demand them to be.

As for ideals in practice, I don't think I have any words of wisdom to offer. That much is obvious, judging from the state of my life.
I do believe it's better to have ideals than not, even if in practice we can only take them so far.

Sorry, this doesn't answer any of your questions! I'll have a bigger think and see if I can write more about it.