Sunday, March 01, 2009


Humans have a certain type of curiosity that is a fascination with origins. We delve into geneology of course, but we also want to satisfy ourselves as to the origins, and thus the nature, of more universal phenomena. Thus, James Bruce was moved to search for the source of the Nile, scientists are presently striving to confirm the existence of the "God particle" and ruined investors search for the etiology of their woes. The entire conflict between evolution and creationism is over which of the two doctrines is a more useful approach to the seminal question of human life. Underlying these investigations is the assumption that there is a single underlying nature, which if understood, will enable us to more effectively manage our affairs. In some cases, like physics, or biology, this is true, but human psychology seems to extend the principle to areas unsuitedto the premise. One such inappropriate discipline is politics.

The emphasis on bipartisanship and rejecting extremists of both the left and the right, is motivated by a notion that the welfare of the people has a single objective origin, and that there is some form of political compromise that leads us closer to an ideal form of government. For example, the current fashion is to agree that the more perfect economy is one that strikes a balance between private enterprise and government activism. Similarly there is presumed to be some type of Zen-like balance between individual liberty and governmental regulation, and between individual prerogatives and coerced duties.

For centuries, physicians have tried to trace the origins of disease in order to have some clue as to how to treat it. But in each case they had no dispute as to what the goal was: to return the patient to the state of health he enjoyed prior to affliction. When Bruce sought the source of the Nile, there was no confusion as to what phenomenon he was trying to explain. This is not the case with politics however. The whole existence of politics arises from the fact that there is no right answer to the question of what is the proper role of government, and what should be the priorities of interests among citizens of the state. If we seek to understand the role of government and the rule of law, we are likely to come to vastly different conclusions if we assume that it arises form the need for collective defense, than if does from protection of economic growth, or maintenance of public order, or providing food and shelter.

In fact, the nature of politics is inherently and unavoidably adversarial, a characteristic that need not vex the physicists seeking elementary particles, explorers seeking out geological features, or researchers trying to understand what makes people sick. In the latter cases, it may reasonably be assumed that there is a "right" answer; in politics there are only accomodations of certain interests, and while these accomodations and compromises might achieve certain common goals, they do not resolve the tension that arises because people will always have differing interests, needs, and ideas of how things ought to be.

1 comment:

Evil Red Scandi said...

Fortunately, we have the Mainstream Media available to explain it all to us.