Monday, February 16, 2009

Society and Politics

It has been said (pretty accurately) that politics is the art of the possible. Whether we're intimately familiar with the processes or not, we are aware that from City Hall to Congress getting anything done is a matter of an action containing enough good for enough disparate interests to get whatever majority is needed to pass it. Making a rule or law and spending money that is supposed to be in the general interest is going affect a lot of people with differing views and interests...and swat. Somehow those must be folded together all the while avoiding goring someones ox sufficiently to stir real trouble. If you care to break that down into Parties or smaller, even within those there are going to be a lot of conflicting ideas. Toss on top of all that rules concerning process and you actually have something fairly difficult to do. Maybe judging from some results it's too easy, but it's what we've got.

We frequently refer to these people as our leaders. There is a problem with that word in that it has several concepts or models involved in it. A leader in the military model gives orders, a leader on a basketball court may have no authority whatever beyond example. In the political model we frequently look at them and accuse them of being too slow to provide changes. That is the piece I'm addressing here.

When you look at the messiness of getting things done politically you have to understand where the will to get things done comes from - answering to the voters at election time. It is common practice to look back and talk about socio-political changes as though they were the same thing. They aren't. Politics lags society in almost every case, the change has already occurred when it is codified as law or budget. Civil Rights is often held up as a political process, that might be accurate in the respect that in some places it was forced down the local throat by law or budget, but it was not a political change creating something that didn't exist. Civil Rights Legislation could not have happened if most of the country was not disgusted with its lack and in favor of the principles involved. Civil Rights happened because most of America wanted it to, because society had moved in its orientation on the issue.

You can look at that particular example and talk about what factors moved society, but at the bottom it wasn't because politicians wanted to deal with it. There were a lot of political considerations and actual outcomes that argued against it, but it was politically an untenable position to ignore it. Society proposed and politics disposed. Great rhetoricians are credited with molding social opinion, nonsense. What rhetoric can do is reach an already formed opinion and awaken it into action or upper consciousness, it will not create such a thing out of nothingness. Hitler did not create the motivations for his toxic policies, he took the existing anger, frustration, helplessness, and racism of Germany and used it, he did not create it. Through dictatorial powers he carried on a government that may have imposed on the society what it did not intend, but imposition through force on a national scale is a different thing. Even propaganda has to have an opening, otherwise it is simply laughable or sickening - judge that by our own reaction to Nazi propaganda of the period. Outside of generations long existence through force a government cannot impose social consciousness, you have to start pretty young and nurture through a lot of exposure such a thing.

American social thought is a true hodge podge. Our society is such a mixture of cultures and societies and religions that there is a natural tension occurring at almost all times between them. What happens is that over time and exposure to ideas we become more comfortable with each other's ideas and at some point something approximating agreement occurs on some issue. There are entire large sections of large libraries devoted to the subject so I'll just stay away from trying to point out how it happens - we know it does happen. It is not a top down phenomenon, it happens because we keep rubbing up against each other and some common chord comes out of it. There is some tipping point where it becomes obvious that the change has occurred, and suddenly we act surprised as though it jumped out full grown from its womb.

The issue of civil rights was around preceding our foundation as a nation in this country, a bloody war was fought over it, a bloody reaction happened, and so it went back and forth even now. Martin Luther King could not have had his movement if the country was not ready for it. This takes nothing away from King, it is simply a fact that it would have been mercilessly crushed unless enough of the nation was ready for it. King and the others reached people because they were ready to be reached, the opinion already existed. It may have been at a level of consciousness where it was not really a part of people's lives until he poked at it and brought it forward, but it was there.

Politics always lags this process, the art of the possible demands that it is possible. Other than on rare occasions the public motivators of sentiment to make things politically possible aren't politicians. Attempting to raise consciousness as a politician is a risky behavior, it puts you ahead of expressed will and for politicians that certainly opens them to criticism they easily may not be able to counter or deflect. This is the part of the process that disappoints me. We have put together a system of governance where boldness in this respect is actively discouraged. In the face of that reality, the challenge is to overcome its existence.

The real crunch is what that requires because most of it is in short supply, the first being patience. If you're proposing change of any particular import it is going to take quite awhile for the rough edges to get rubbed off enough to have some kind of consensus and the bigger the idea the longer that's going to take. You are going to have to achieve some sort of authority to speak to the issue, you can talk all day long to no effect if nobody is listening because they have no reason to take you seriously. You have to develop a platform to speak from, if nobody can hear you, nobody is listening. Finally you have to have the skill to reach into people and strum that string they hadn't noticed and get music from it. Charisma helps, but don't mistake that for the ability to know how to reach that thought and the reasonableness to bring it forward as an issue.

A person of intelligence is able to learn and earn all of those requirements. It certainly isn't for the faint hearted or weak willed because the cost in time and effort is large. This blog takes a lot of political stands, but much of it is dedicated to social consciousness rather than a narrow political issue. I spend a lot of effort within the political structure, but most of my efforts are directed at the lower end of it rather than elected officials, when I talk to them I try to bring the possible to their attention or the developing possible. At the lower end, the activists, it is a matter of trying to multiply effort through the acquisition of additional voices and providing what tools I can. As a public speaker I do not have movie star charisma, I am neither pretty nor is my voice suitable for more than talking, but I have had some success at it. I strongly encourage anyone with the time and patience to take a stab at it.

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