Political chaos

Politics As Blood Sport (and the Search for Big Daddy)

As we indicated in our two last posts, there is a structural problem in politics today: partisanship and left and right divides that create more drama than results. However, there is another element in the equation that needs to be addressed, and that is that the average citizen supports and abets these dysfunctional systems.

Citizens become inflamed as they support one view or another – or simply stand proudly by their opinion. And, we end up treating politics as a blood-sport. This lively attitude feeds directly into the partisanship we discussed and, today, of course, it is magnified by social media.

Second, the desire for many to simply be taken care of by their leaders or governments, just as they were once looked after by their parents, is considerable. We can call this the “Big Daddy” syndrome, and it is exemplified by a Turk who, when interviewed on television before a referendum in his country, said, “We know Erdogan is authoritarian. That’s why we like him.” Many people wish our politicians to be like a father figure that reassures, and fixes all problems, and some wily politicians take full advantage of this dependency.

Having strong political views and wishing for someone to take care of us may seem normal. This feeling arises out of a deep need for stimulation, and a sense that our groups – nations, parties – are like families, with a patriarch on top. However, these inclinations can be dangerous because we end up abetting polarization and leave ourselves prone to manipulation.

It also means that we are putting emotional preferences ahead of good policy that would improve our nations and provide jobs and a solid direction for future generations. “Voters don’t have anything like coherent preferences,” said political scientists Christopher Achens and Larry Bartels in an interview with Vox. “Most people pay little attention to politics; when they vote, if they vote at all, they do so irrationally and for contradictory reasons.” It is likely that many will see their neighbour in this statement, but not themselves.

Poor policy, however, has consequences. If societies become deeply fragmented and don’t meet basic human needs, there is the risk of chaos and the rise of dangerous groups, such as political cults (The Conciliators Guild will address this issue directly in a virtual course on August 19th).

Having a strong political opinion and cheering for a leader may both feel virtuous, but they may also represent error and misjudgement, if unexamined. The only sustainable answer to this is for citizens to increase their awareness of their political assumptions and illusions.

As was once said, “The summary of the advice of all prophets is this: find yourself a mirror.”