Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Point of Politics

It's said that "all politics is a struggle for power". And there's some truth to that, but that's not all there is to it. We human beings have two political drives... the drive to extend our sphere of control, and our desire to be free of the control of others. These actually look complementary at first glance. After all, don't we secure our freedom by extending our control? A man in the wilderness controls his own actions. But he then extends that to the world around him. He fells trees, clears fields, builds a house, plants a crop. His entire existence is one of extending his control as far as he can reach. In doing so he's gained freedom from hunger, from cold, and from predators. This urge to control is primal. It's what humans do.

That's all well and good until you get other people living in close proximity. Now there are limits to what one man can control if we allow that "all men are created equal" and thus have equal rights. My influence stops where another man's begins, but the desire to control doesn't go away. It's what we do.

So we invented politics. Politics is that struggle for power. At its best it's a struggle for equitability: the fair and reasonable exercise of freedom by everyone. At its worst, it's tyranny: the unbridled exercise of power by a few over many. Tyranny denies that all men are created equal, while quite often saying the opposite. But even at its best, politics reveals the adversarial nature of those drives I mentioned. With limited resources, in order to extend my sphere of control, I have infringe on someone else's. He's not going to like that. He'll push back. We can either escalate this into some kind of a fight, or we can come to an agreement.

A fight is risky. While there's a potential of gaining more control there's also a risk of losing everything. With agreement I might not get everything I could possibly get, but I get a lot more than nothing. If I can convince him to see things my way then the other guy comes to the same conclusion. And we find in the course of this that the two of us in cooperation are stronger than either one of us alone.

So while a tyrant would leave it at the unqualified, "all politics is a struggle for power," I would say that at its best, politics is the negotiation of agreeable limits of power. It means exactly the same thing as "Politics is the art of compromise," but oddly enough, Liberals hate one phrasing while Conservatives hate the other.


It's still a struggle for power. What's different is the application of force and the recognition of the rights of others. As a Libertarian I believe to my core that the rights of each individual person are inalienable. They didn't come from government, and government cannot justly take them away. There is no imaginable argument by which you can assert a moral right to control my life. And as one person among many, I believe that other people have as much right to the control of their lives as I do to control mine. It means that I have a right to keep what's mine. So does he... I have no right to steal from him simply because he's better at earning than I am. I have no right to tell him how to think or pray or not pray. I can't invade his privacy. I can't take his life. In short, as a general philosophical rule, I cannot use force against him.

Furthermore, I believe that our government is structured to be a "government by consent". Our Constitution is designed to limit the Federal government to enumerated powers, while granting to the People all of those powers not specifically granted to the Government. Now I didn't make that up. The Ninth Amendment flat out says, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The Tenth Amendment flat out says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People." 

By consent, the government has the powers specifically listed in that small document, and no others. By design we express that consent through consensus. And that means that the government is effectively controlled by those persons who can agree. In politics, perfectly applied, the type of force required to govern is persuasion, and the goal of that persuasion is agreement. To come to an agreement I first distinguish between my wants and needs. Then I have to recognize that I cannot have everything I want. I can get some of it, but to get everything I need I give up some of my wants so that others have what they need. We compromise, and in principle that's the only way that people can govern themselves without the threat of physical force.

In practice, I must limit myself to minimum necessary force. Not everybody plays by the rules. We have criminals, so we have police. We have exterior threats, so we have militia. Also.. in practice, this only works if everyone is respectful of the rights of others, and that means absolute strict adherence to the Constitution. Again, this requires agreement. The minute you lose that, the perfect system starts slipping away.

The tyrant doesn't give a damn about your rights. He wants to control you. And the sad part is he rarely if ever thinks he's a tyrant! If he's raised in a society where the rights of others are recognized, he will convince himself that he's exercising those rights on behalf of others. He will convince himself that he is smarter and more capable than other people and that he should therefore make their decisions for them. He can spend their money better. He can manage their health and education better. He can distinguish between saint and insane. He can defend individuals better than they can defend themselves. He will convince himself of these things by believing that all men are NOT created equal... it's self-evident that he is "better". He will justify his tyranny. He'll then act on that justification with whatever means he has. He will begin with intellectual force. He will pervert the tools of Democracy. He will persuade through lies and bribes. He will make promises and break them. He will gather power centrally, away from the people and their consent, because that's what tyrants do. And having gathered power, and denied t to others, he will then have a police force, and an army, and the ability to use them.

The sad news is that as soon a person or group of people discovers they can do that, it begins to happen. Always. The Greeks had democracies and lost them. The Romans had a Republic and lost it. Tyranny wins. It has always won in the end, and the only way back has been violent conflict. The "Great American Experiment" was conceived by a group of men who knew this and tried to construct a system that would prevent it, so they introduced a Constitution and agreed to write down the strict limits they placed on the powers of government so that everybody could see them. They made three branches of government co-equal so that no one of them could dominate the others. They warned us to be vigilant.


It happens when people are mis-informed and succumb to charismatic leaders and are talked into investing them with power that was deliberately denied them.
It happens when a Supreme Court decides that the Tenth Amendment is "just a truism" and can be ignored under the flimsiest of pretenses.
It happens when we allow other clauses and amendments to be discarded, ignored, and "re-interpreted" with no better excuse.
It happens when we allow the chambers of Congress ignore their assigned roles.
It happens when we allow Presidents to effectively initiate war prior to Congress declaring it.
It happens when we allow the government to completely ignore laws on immigration and naturalization, throwing open our borders to all comers, and patently refusing to allow our military to do the one thing they're actually supposed to do.
It happens when we allow the government to persecute journalists for exercising their First Amendment rights.
It happens when we allow illegal search and seizure.
It happens when we allow the government to steal from us.
It happens when we allow the government to restrict our right to defend our lives and liberty.

And it happens because people were persuaded to let all of this happen. They're told it's for safety, or security, or efficiency, or compassion. They were told that these things are more important than their Liberty. And they believed that lie.

So what's the point of politics?

All of this is to answer a question I was recently asked in the context of yesterday's post. The questioner wondered why I'm obsessed with "agreement".

I'm not. It's persuasion. I recognize that the root of political power is persuasion. There are exactly two ways to effect change in government, and that's by persuasion or by the sword. I prefer to save the sword for last resort. So persuasion through education and reasoned argument is my preferred tool. If you really want to make a change, you must must must adopt persuasion. And you cannot persuade anyone of anything if they're not listening. So to those folks who say they don't believe in persuasively gaining agreement, I say you'd better start. Your observations are just bitching if you're not trying to make a change for the better.

You may have a right to speak, but nobody is obligated to listen. To be heard, you must be reasoned and factual. You can be passionate, but not belligerent. You have to argue without being argumentative. Because this is the Internet. They will fact-check you. They'll block you, shut you off, shout you down, and leave.

Remember, all you have to offer is the truth. The supporters of tyranny are promising free magic candy that tastes delicious, costs nothing, won't rot your teeth, and won't make you fat. And they can be as belligerent as they like because HEY! FREE CANDY!  Then one day all the people wake up fat, with rotten teeth, an empty wallet, and a bad taste in their mouths. So I think we have a duty to persuade and educate, because otherwise they'll run to the free candy every time.

And lest someone misunderstand me, let me make it clear that the ultimate goal of political persuasion is not to win someone over on one topic, but on an ideology. Liberty. Is. Better. It is the very most valuable thing you have. Today people say they have a "right" to free education, free healthcare, even free Internet. But without Liberty, we have nothing. The Founders had volumes of disagreements, but the ONE thing they could all agree on is that we cannot give up our sovereignty over OURSELVES. It sounds obvious if you just say it.

I don't want "bipartisanship" as I don't care about parties. I want Liberty. I'd rather not get it with compromise. I'd rather get it by converting people into supporters of individual Liberty. But that's something for you and I to do, outside of Washington and we can't do it by shouting at them.

And I know... I just finished calling people supporters of tyranny. So where the heck do I get off doing that? It's to make a point that you can be civil without being wishy-washy. A tyrant is an absolute ruler who governs without restrictions. Historically, it's a ruler whose authority lacked the sanction of law or custom. When we ignore the Constitution, these both apply. But as I said, many people don't know that's what they're doing. A tyrant with good intentions is a tyrant.

I'm out of time.

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