The current phenomenon of absurdly overblown social conflict over the most insignificant of incidents appears to be on the increase, from endless daily stories of micro-aggressions to the non-event of the smirking Covington pupil. One explanation as outlined in this article is that we have ‘too much’ politics in our lives. It makes the case that the continuing encroachment of politics into ever smaller and more intimate areas of our lives causes an extreme focus on politics as an end in itself rather than the ‘civic ties’ that it’s supposed to facilitate. This divides us in such a way that people with different political views appear as enemies, effectively a threat from another tribe.
Politics are at best a necessary evil. They exist not as an end in themselves but as a means of strengthening and uniting the civic ties that bind us as a people and a nation. If we choose to center our lives completely on politics, then we forget why we have them in the first place.
While I agree in principle with the general tone of the article, I think it misses the mark in its identification of ‘too much’ politics as being the culprit. It also fails to make the distinction between politics and Politics.
As social creatures, politics, or the ability to influence or manipulate others for our own purposes, will always be a part of who we are. It’s literally hardwired into our genes to seek social approval, to achieve the highest levels we can within our various spheres of influence. This network of influence will differ across the various hierarchies we are part of, be it professional or personal and we vary in our ability to exert influence within those different networks. For example an artisan may be influential in their chosen area where the quality of their output gains recognition and status, but may not fare so well in a large hierarchical organisation where work skills can matter somewhat less than the social skills required to persuade and gain recognition and status in such a highly competitive environment. The spheres of influence that we are part of form a complex network, unique to each of us, that interact with the networks of others in ways that we can barely conceive. This is natural of course, and we deal with the ebb and flow of our influence every day. But most importantly, this form of theatre – the tools and facades we present to the world to put ourselves in the best position we believe we can achieve – is essentially consensual.
Influence can also be achieved through violence, although it’s a very different beast being based solely on skill in exerting coercive force. One particular form of such weaponised influence outshines all others in its effectiveness: the sanitised, ‘legitimised’ acceptance of force as a way to achieve ends, monopolised and administered by the institution known as the state. Influence at the barrel of a gun, to misquote a past master of the art. No longer an attempt to persuade, it is simply an order. It differs from its criminal stablemates in that it, uniquely, is not only considered both acceptable and ethical, but actually desirable as way to achieve ends. This is what I regard as the “politics” discussed in the article.
This is the point that I believe the article misses. It’s not only (or even particularly) that we have too much ‘politics’ in our society, it’s that it moves the game from simply having a different opinion on how to achieve something, which can be ignored if it doesn’t match our own worldview, to being forcefully subjugated by another to comply with their particular opinions. It not that there’s too much of it, the issue is that we accept any at all. It escalates a mere difference of opinion to actual conflict. The fact that people have become so polarised is reflective of the fact that they may well hold completely different worldviews, different values, different tolerances. That alone could be dealt with if we had to negotiate our own way in life. But those different worldviews when mixed with the violent coercion of the state turn us into actual enemy combatants, with each looking to use the violent power of the state to best the other while pretending that it’s “just politics”.
The violence of coercive ‘politics’ is the corrosive element that turns an otherwise irrelevant difference of opinion into a virtually unbridgeable chasm. As the state has taken over more of our lives (as the article points out) this issue has become more acute. It’s not just a difference of opinion, it’s stating “I am going to force you to live by my value choices rather than you own, regardless of your consent”. Of course any sane person is going to respond in kind, by threatening their own forceful imposition of alien values. So we have neighbours facing off to try to run the others life according to their own rules, with threat of physical punishment for the loser. The violence of the state has turned opinion into a high-stakes Mexican stand-off, encouraging an increasingly tribalistic view of the world. It appeals to our basest survival instincts, turning otherwise civilised people into a baying irrational mob like a pack of domestic dogs running loose and returning to their natural instincts.
As long as we are prepared to use coercive violence as the primary way to organise our societies and pretend that such a thing is noble and good then the problem will remain. You can’t ‘reduce’ politics, as the various factions will simply beg/vote for a more powerful state with which to bolster their side against the other, even defensively. That’s why we’re in this position at all. It can only go one way. More state, more politics, more division.
This is why I am a libertarian anarchist: It recognises the individual as the locus of control, not the group, and requires that all legitimate interactions are consensual (i.e. non-violent). It solves the problem of “too much politics” by eliminating the disease of collectivism entirely.