"Politics" seldom defined

Frediano's picture
Submitted by Frediano on Tue, 2011-12-06 00:26

A few years ago, as my oldest was visiting universities, I asked the same question to two separate 4th year PoliSci majors: "Can you provide for me your working meta-definition of the word 'politics?' Not necessarily 'the' definition, just your working definition of the word, after almost four years of study."

The reaction was nearly identical. They stared at me like I had C4 strapped to my chest. One was flabbergasted, unable to come up with a definition, and was totally flummoxed. The other made a sad attempt: "You know, political parties and stuff."

Before you are too hard on these folks, consider the following definitions from an on line dictionary:

   [pol-i-tiks] Show IPA
noun ( used with a singular or plural verb )
the science or art of political government.
the practice or profession of conducting political affairs.
political affairs: The advocated reforms have become embroiled in politics.
political methods or maneuvers: We could not approve of his politics in winning passage of the bill.
political principles or opinions: We avoided discussion of religion and politics. His politics are his own affair.

and then...

   [puh-lit-i-kuhl] Show IPA
of, pertaining to, or concerned with politics: political writers.
of, pertaining to, or connected with a political party: a political campaign.
exercising or seeking power in the governmental or public affairs of a state, municipality, etc.: a political machine; a political boss.
of, pertaining to, or involving the state or its government: a political offense.
having a definite policy or system of government: a political community.

Did you learn anything from those clearly circular definitions?

When you research the definition of the term 'politics', you will be amused to find nearly as many definitions as there are people in the world. In fact, no less an authority on 'everything' than UNESCO's website, resources for educators, I once found the amazingly frank disclosure that 'there is no widely accepted definition of the word politics' (right before they gave their definition of the word.)

And yet, we use it in every second sentence in our political discourse. (Damn! I just did...)

So, in the spirit of that search for enlightenment(which I am convinced is the very last thing some in the political struggle would ever want to occur, especially if it involves clearly identifying what we are all about when we are involved with 'politics' or a 'political' discussion, here is my non-official meta-definition of the word 'politics.'

Politics: the art and science of getting what we want from others, using every means short of actual violence. Mega-politics is the superset that includes violence. The art and science of 'ruling others' is a more narrowly defined definition, an example of 'politics', but not the meta-definition of 'politics.' Commerce is the subset that includes offering value-for-value as the strategy for getting what we want from others, but it is not the only strategy. Simply asking them is another. Convincing them is another strategy. Telling them a lie, or deceit, or fantastic story is another. Hypothesizing an authority safely out of reach of all and then jarringly speaking for it is another. (God, "S"ociety, the Environment, Rawls perfect state of unbias, etc.)

What we want from others might be anything: The TV Remote, love, affection, admiration, validation for the parking of our souls, a gallon of refined gasoline, their vote, their home, carnal knowledge of them, Kuwait, or the most elusive tribal want of all, "To be left alone in freedom under a model of free association."

So, what limits what is reasonable to want from others? If 'nothing' then the list is endless and boundless, and the resulting graceless, clawing mess is just a tribal race to oblivion.

What, if not 'morality,' is the foundation for defining those limits? And at least in the American experiment, therein lies the rub, because we have all but abdicated 'morality' to religion and have at the same time attempted to place a firewall between the state and religion. Our FF attempted to codify a civil morality based on the Bill of Rights, but frustrated religionists in the late 1800s and early 1900s were severely unsatisfied with the progress that Jesus' mission was making on earth, and so, sought a more aggressive, muscular religion that was not so cowed by that pesky 1st Amendment, and the Fabian/Socialist/Progressive/Anything But An Avowed Religion Religious movements sprang up to push an American Theocracy based on on unbalanced definition of morality that was all too willing to sell freedom (the desire to be left alone except under a model of free association) for "Progress." The True Believers were embued with their True Believer view of morality, and so it was Onward Christian Soldiers, marching As To War, and freedom be damned. Not satisfied with the progress of the old model of religion and its need to 'ask' peers living in freedom for support and sustenance, the frustrated old religionists bared their teeth and flexed their muscles and sought the guns of state for their religions aims.

America the idea was over-run, long before we were born, but the beast was huge, and even when it finally died, its massive carcass remained, and even today, the worms wriggling in the once huge carcass are a kind of life still evident.

If only we could shine a light on 'politics', and clearly identify what it is we are all about when engaged in it, the unseemly, unsightly nature of exactly what that graceless clawing mess really is could help in subduing its out of all control excesses.

What are reasonable political limits on 'what we want from others' in a political context defined by freedom, an individual Bill of Rights, and a bias towards free association? America is scared to death to have that debate. Instead, we mud wrestle.