1. People understand politics to be theater, even while insisting it be something more: some power that makes all the trains run on time and beats every enemy and costs no amount of money.
I could say “this is irrational,” but duh you already know that. The bigger issue is that I understand politics this way, as do you. It’s not something we’re “guilty” of, as much as something we use to get things done.
For example: if we don’t believe government can do quite a lot, then the peace and comfort we have is completely unsustainable. And if we don’t hold politics to be theater, then when we get political power we won’t know how to act, or worse yet, take with pride the beating that bullies will unleash on us.
2. The trouble is that a conception of politics that starts and ends with yearnings is going to have a fatal flaw, especially when those two yearnings are completely contradictory. How can government do everything while being nothing but theater? It makes no sense, and it has to break down somewhere.
Some might say it breaks down in our public figures. Poor Senators McCain and Obama have personal stories that can be compelling, but then are expected to be Messianic as a result. We’ve discussed this at length in previous posts, and I’m not backing away from it.
The real breakdown is in all of us, however. We have no standard for how we can conduct ourselves in public life. This opens the door for the worst tyranny of them all.
3. When you see that a large part of “theater” is getting people riled up and riding waves of emotion, and that unrealistic expectations mean any one person can be held accountable for everything gone wrong with the world since the beginning of time, you can see that the breakdown of politics is when we believe a mob mentality is something to work with as opposed to something to eliminate.
All of us on the Left and Right are more than happy to shout each other down. If we can get 50 people to shout some other guy down, we’re not going to have a problem with that. Cf. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar: This is the intended result of Antony’s speech, and results in the destruction of the Republic.
4. The ironic thing about the Internet is that it could aid democracy today. We see forums all the time where people shout each other down. What if there were one forum – just one – where that didn’t happen?
Yes, I submit to you, it would be that big a deal. The reason why is that it would be the first real break in centuries from the common opinions used by Enlightenment thinkers to generate modern democracy. See especially Descartes and Locke on this point – progress for the sake of comfort and private property go a long way to us thinking that our private lives are everything and all else is mere “theater” or of another world entirely. Hamilton and Madison, as much as I respect them, anticipate and depend on people merely being passionate in order to keep Constitutionalism working.
But I know as well as you do they’d love to have a more reasonable country. And that starts with us, not with the government.
5. What I’d like to hear from you is if there was ever a time you were part of a political campaign that educated you, or part of a class that worked really well, or even a family discussion that didn’t get too personal that got stuff done and wasn’t just people snapping at each other.
What I need to know is if there are ways besides cramming poetry into your heads or ranting about Plato to get all of us to make every moment educative, so that way we’re all learning and have more to share with each other and can do more for each other. A large part of this project is how you feel about everything, that you’re happy to be part of the discussion and don’t need a “there are evil people in my own country who need to be stopped” line of reasoning as a motivator (not that there aren’t – but we want the best motivation possible).