The Nature of Politics

By ooorg

Created 15 Apr 2021  (Edited 15 Aug 2021 )


What is the Nature of politics today in 2021, in the UK?

What is politics? Is it just the playing of the game in the Machiavellian sense, where the only aim is power for the interested parties or individuals? It would seem so. Politics - can have a pejorative interpretation (also Profit), sometimes Politicians even accuse others of 'playing politics' (which is their job), although it could be assumed that what is really meant is that they should take their politics seriously. Where Politics might have meant the extraneous and unnecessary — but accepted because of human failings — activity that went in-between the necessary output of governance and discourse, it now might appear to be the whole endeavour that matters. Not so much the grease that makes the cogs turn but the unavoidable dirt that sticks to it.

Different cultural-social paradigms are defined as such by the tenets that go by unquestioned. Politics just gets on with asking the questions that aren't in-between the lines, just sticking to the lines, and concerns itself with the how-tos. Politics might then become the focus of discourse over what is at stake, rather than what is actually at stake - we quibble over what kind of dirt sticks to the machine rather than what kind of machine we have, and whether it works for us or not.

The "paradigm" or unquestioned structures in place ('the machine', or 'the system' or Structure) has, since the latter part of the last century, been economics. or rather Economics with a capital 'E'. The idea was that to let money flow freely and society would flourish. 'The Economy" is the analytic model of the said flow of money, and as a moniker for the paradigmatic political philosophy it replaced its predecessor "Society", which concerned itself with people and their complex relations.

But those complex relations were too much for us to understand about ourselves - we concluded after a series of traumatic failings of modernity (two World Wars) that we weren't to be trusted with ourselves and instead there were 'systems' that occurred in Nature that were better placed to govern us1. Ecosystems and Ecologies, Chaos theory - self determining systems that balanced things out in the end: the systems that were bigger than us and therefore best deferred to for governance. We were governed by Nature after all, so why not be governed by Nature?

So we 'unleashed the markets'. And now we looked to the Economy rather than Society. They were [anecdotally] made synonymous. The measure of money was the measure of people. People moved money around and so the Economy was indexical of the behaviour of People. Obviously this measure could only reflect those things that people bought and sold, which were most things to people that were important - like food and housing and clothes and technology that liberated us from the mundane labour of our past. Most things but not everything, but those other things that were 'free' didn't matter so much, or so it was thought.

Those things that were 'free' or could not be bought and sold are still under discussion. But there were things that might not have been commodities that were brought under the rubric of the Market during the early stages and the course of the Economic paradigm. The most conspicuous were the publicly owned resources such as British Rail, British Steel, British Telecom et cetera. Grand objects that leered over us like monoliths were suddenly considered acceptable for liberation into the free marketplace that would allow them to function in a unrestricted and more profitable way. The trope was freedom: deregulate, let things blow in the wind, let Nature takes its course and everybody will profit. After all, the mantra for the generation that came to maturity during this process - the Hippy generation - was Freedom. Individual expression and exploration of the Self was part of a whole creative movement that helped destabilise the post-War project of collectivism. Common ownership was a thing of the past - instead profit would allow blah blah.

We all know the rest. It stands to reason that the primary objective for such institutions turned companies was to make money for the shareholders and not provide the best service for the customer - which is everybody else - the previous owners of the institution. You can argue that the best way to make profit is to provide the best service to the once citizen and now customer, but that is a leap of faith at best and more accurately a logical fallacy. This is The Crux - I repeat, profit for the shareholder does not equate to either a successful business in the long term and certainly not to the benefit of the customer. Turning the people of the State* into customers did a number of things. And one of them was not to make them beneficiaries of the new way of doing things. Nature was not going to be kind to them. "Mother Nature" was not so motherly after all.

So the whole political endeavour changed and the reasons they gave us were maybe not so honest. Freedom sounded like a good idea, but freedom was given to money and not people. The story was that freedom for money was equivocal to that of people. We still talk as if they are the same thing, when I state that they are not. Where Economics is a study of an index of social behaviour – accessed through an indexical device such as money – it is just that, a study of an index and not of the complexities of people, or groups of people, themselves. And the political application of an ideology based on freeing people by freeing money became an exercise in not just studying an index of social behaviour, but studying how controlling the agent of the Economy, money, would affect people. After all, after the gold standard was removed and we became a fiat money based Economy / Society the central Government could control money as it might have wanted to control people in the non-Capitalist Communist-Totalitarian countries of the 20thC, ie the Soviet Union. If only they had thought of that.

So money and people are not the same thing. But in the name of creating the new way (whether that be by licking your finger and feeling which way the wind is blowing so as to gain political power or because you genuinely believed in creating a fairer world) you had to convince yourself and everyone else that it was fundamental. That is, that it was a 'system' that worked, like Nature, and that anomalies or contradictions to the system had to be either disproved or eradicated. And instead of starting something and empirically observing how it plays out sociologically, in the name of Science (ah remember that?), you truly believe in it, because after all you have recognised it as something that we have always understood as something more powerful as ourselves - Nature - you set about to manufacture its being. "Man"-ufacture: to make by (hu)man and not by Nature, those being in opposition to each other. We were trying to construct a system based on Nature, but was never 'Natural', because we constructed it. The myth of a Natural System was fallacious. What was happening was, instead of studying Society through an index of monetarist relations we were trying to control a society through the agent of money. Totalitarian Communism eat your heart out!

And it was a power-relation. If everything was understood through monetarist relations then everything should be brought into that relationship. Ergo the selling of publicly owned resources and institutions. And also the telling and the re-telling of the story that 'The Economy' was what we collectively should protect. As if it were to go South, then people would lose jobs and become unemployed – not only a pariah as if you were to be caught by the safety net of the Welfare State you were extradited to being a non-contributor to the Economy, and someone who "cheated" it. A traitor to the Economy God. Whereas, the Economy required the Unemployed to keep wages down through competition. Total employment would not be good for the Economy*.

So as everything had to be 'monetized' – that is, understood by the relations of buying and selling, so too was the power-relation between people and their government. A government that had evolved to represent the people, a body-politic manifested as 'The State'. Famously though, at the beginning of this process of Neo-Liberalisation, Ronald Reagan asserted that 'Government was the problem', and promptly gave the power to the Banks, who were not historically accountable to the People.

Once again, the trope was that we, the People, cannot manage our affairs, and if we try to do so it culminates in a bureaucracy that is assumed ugly, deficient and counter-productive. Instead Nature would be beautiful, efficient and productive. Who was to argue?

OK so that brings us to where we are now - with some gaps to fill in of course - events such as Brexit-Trump Nationalism, the Climate Crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement and the Covid-19 Pandemic aside. But all these things in their own way have out-gunned Neo-Liberalist dogma to the extent that politicians who stick to the ideology are fading in their ability to tell their story, because it was bollocks and holds very little sway in the critical sense. However, the tropes persist. They are fading, too, but while they pervade in Culture and News (which is culture, arguably), they will still take a while before they disappear entirely. Examples are that the Populist-Nationalism of the Trump administration and the Tory government (during the Pandemic) reject austerity in the name of unleashing fiscal contracts from within the State to service political accomplices (Cronyism), and to pay for National services such as the NHS, the anticipated rewards being popularity. Bang goes the household economic model for the Treasury that their Tory austerity-sadist predecessor's clung to.

Which brings Nature into question. The Hippy movement of the 1960s, which created the combination of Individualism and Natural system governance and contributed to the downfall of the Social contract that peaked in Post-War Europe was based on a Romantic idea of Nature. Real Science in the time since then has changed our understanding of what 'Nature' is. It is not self-governing nor in equilibrium. Einstein's big mistake was that he assumed the Cosmos was static: we know now that everything is in fact going to shit. This Romantic idea of a maternal Nature is problematic not just in terms of a Feminist re-evaluation of identity but is a big factor in Climate-Crisis denial. If we assume Nature to right itself, we absolve ourselves of agency in destroying the environment, which in real terms (not the saying 'in real money' #neoliberalism) means people starving, mass migrations and extinctions for species to say the least. Essentialist conceptions of 'Nature' are problematic on many fronts but are also extremely deep-rooted, and it goes beyond every-day politics. It manifests in Art, and Story-Telling on all levels.
The Covid-19 Pandemic doesn't illustrate Nature's benevolence. And with the BLM movement, we have seen a return to the notion of 'Structure' with the reference to "structural Racism", with is related to, but not entirely the same thing as "Institutional Racism". Structuralism is back - its binary, "Agency", which went hand in hand with Individualism was the master in the aforementioned paradigm. Both are relevant. In terms of discourse they are synthetic and antithetical dialectical partners. Personally I assert that it is healthier to acknowledge conflicting theses to maintain a dialectical rather than ideological narrative of ourselves.

In terms of dialectics and History in a more traditional Marxist (and Hegelian) sense, Fukyama's Neo-Liberal Utopia that signified the end of History, or more correctly the end of discourse, has concluded. Marx's proletariat, typically the antithesis to the wealth-owners who together constitute his definition of Historical dialecticism were converted from worker to customer by the Neo-Liberal Revolution. Of course, there is still a 'working class' but the argument goes that it is not how people work define themselves, rather it is how we shop, how we consume, is how we define ourselves. Our culture has been monetized, so it is a pretty solid definition, however you look at it.`

And with the onset of Artificial Intelligence and mechanisation taking over more and more of people's jobs, The Labour Party should have been going by its true name, The Customer Party, But that should no longer be the case. The question is, what is the politics of the Left? I think that it should be to re-ignite a Human-story, that Nature is not a thing. It is not benevolent, it is not a Human thing, and that we should rebuild a Social Contract, with the lessons of the past learned. Nature is an illusion, and it is not Human. We are not Great, our History does not culminate in Perfection, but there is always discourse and we are always working things out collectively. There is no more time for Ideology.

1. In Anthropology, 'Functionalism' is used to describe the analysis of a Culture that assumes that activities within that Culture are maintaining an equilibrium or that the Culture has a single purpose which is explained by the activities within it. For example, the analogy of a society as a single organism, with all the parts working towards a common goal is a Functionalist viewpoint. Functionalism is typically regarded as fallacious and projecting a worldview onto another society that suits its own needs, eg with Colonialism.