My political views (abridged, obviously)

One of the very first things that my Politics lecturer asked us to do was to describe our political views in one sentence. I found this quite hard. Originally I was going to go for the slightly tongue-in-cheek response: ‘I believe that it would be nice to give power to the people, but as a general rule of thumb most people are, sadly, idiots.’ I have since changed my mind about this though, as it might seem that I was not taking the question seriously (perhaps worryingly, it actually does sum up how I feel…). Also, I have read other’s responses to the question (we are to post our answers on a discussion board) and everyone else seems to be taking a slightly different tack to answering it. I’m a sucker for conformity, it would seem.

A similar question on the same discussion board was ‘Do you think that politics should be left to experts?’ and, having thought about it, I think perhaps my answers to both these questions are similar (and neither of them are one sentence).

Politics is something that affects everyone, whether they choose to be actively involved in it or not. This immediately presents us with a problem; if we say that people have a right to influence decisions that affect them, and political decisions affect everyone, then surely everyone has a right to influence political decisions? While one could argue that this is the point of a democracy, others would maintain that the idea of democracy (and I talk, for the meantime at least, simply about Britain) is a fallacy. Yes, we elect our local and national political representatives, but in the grand scheme of things are our voices really heard?

I don’t think that they are, but perhaps with good reason. If your car broke down on the side of the road, would you rather have a random person off the street look under the bonnet, or would you call a trained car mechanic?

Don’t get me wrong; I do think that having the majority of power with the minority of people should be cause for concern, but in order for every person’s view to be seriously considered (ignoring for the moment the obvious logistical and administrative problems with this), they must be aware of what such decisions will mean as a whole. The so-called ‘law of unintended consequences’ says that every action taken will, as well as having a measurable and predictable effect, have unintended or undesired effects. The more that is known about the action taken, the smaller the risk of a dramatic ‘unintended consequence’. In short, we call ‘experts’ to do particular jobs for a reason.

This holds for politics. We have elected officials precisely because we do not know all of the ins and outs of the political system. We trust that the people we choose to be in power will represent our wishes when the time comes.

The problem isn’t necessarily with this system, providing that the elected official actually does what their constituency asks of them (if he/she doesn’t, then obviously a whole set of other problems arise – we’ll conveniently pretend that this never happens). The problem lies with the constituency, specifically with the existence of the ‘law of unintended consequences’. While the public may want certain goods and services, they may be unaware of the costs (and by ‘costs’ I will include monetary, economic, environmental etc.) of such a decision. This isn’t necessarily a problem because the elected official, being an expert in these matters, will notice the problems and not carry out the motion. Sadly, this will not go down well with the public, who do not fully appreciate these costs. As a result, when the next election comes around, they will oust the first guy in favour of someone who claims they will do all that is asked of them.

This, I believe, is a major part of the problem. In order to be elected as a political official, you have to promise to do things that the public want done. In order to be re-elected, you have to have done those things (and promise new ones). As a basic generalisation, people like to be powerful. As another rule of thumb, people are idiots. To stay powerful, therefore, you have to do what the idiots want. Being idiots however, they don’t know what they want – or rather, they don’t know what’s best for them. (‘What’s best for people’ is, of course, a whole other topic in itself. But for now let’s assume that ‘best’ is some form of achievable Utopia.)

One solution to this problem (and the point that has taken me an extraordinary amount of time and effort to get to) is to provide more political education. If the problem is with the people, then surely the solution lies with them as well? I’m obviously not suggesting that everyone studies Politics at university and becomes a politician. What I do think is that there should be some kind of core politics taught at a (fairly) early age. I think mid to late secondary school, and I think it should be compulsory.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be a subject in its own right, but somehow people need to acquire a greater understanding of how their politics are dealt with. (If I had my way ‘General Studies’ would be erased from school timetables in favour of a more comprehensive lesson, dealing with things such as politics and other society-based lessons – things that would actually be useful and important.)

There are obviously other issues, and other factors at play. Perhaps sometime in the near future I will explore these ideas, but for the mean time I will leave this how it is.

Until next time.