Monday 28 October 2013

Chapter 5: speech impediments in politics

The summary and discussion thread for chapter 5 of the AIME reading group is online.

I found this to be a very frustrating chapter. Frustrating in many ways because what he’s saying is neither very complicated not especially innovative – but he takes so long to say it. (Indeed, this is only half the argument, there’s another politics chapter to come later in the book.)

Basically (this is as I understand it, I could be wrong): there is a dialectic between being represented and being obeyed. Political representatives must ‘betray’ those they represent because they have to tie together as many people as they can in order to create a ‘we.’ No ‘betrayal,’ no ‘we,’ no politics. If a politician stands up in front of a crowd and ‘says what he really thinks’ in clear, declarative terms – i.e. engages in ‘straight talk’ then – he will most likely fail at his vocation. Some small part of the crowd will be enthusiastically engaged (because they think exactly the same way) but most will be alienated, insulted and bored, by the blunt, cold, unseductive speech. Thus there is no ‘we’ embodied by the person on the soap box, no liberal democratic Leviathan. There is no representation, so no obedience, so no politics.

If, on the contrary, the politician engages in rhetoric, grand standing, even lying and carefully speaks to the issues that matter the vast majority in one way or another then he might be able to appeal to most, perhaps even all of the crowd – thus there is a ‘we’ and there is politics.

Is it just me or is that a really simple argument that doesn’t need such a complex, meandering explanation? Maybe it’s simple because I’ve simplified it (pinned down the proverbial butterfly) but I don’t see that there’s much more to it than that. It’s certainly a valid argument as far as it goes. People are always expecting politicians to speak like scientists and wishing that they ‘just spoke their minds.’ Clearly politicians need the degree of freedom afforded them by rhetoric in order to do their jobs – and, just as clearly, the quasi-scientific straight talk is the death of politics. But this is nothing to base an entire political philosophy around, is it?