Contempt For Politics

Analysis of political issues across the world

Contempt For Politics

Postby Michael » 30 Aug 2011, 00:03

James Bowman, an American columnist and film reviewer, makes a nice point in a recent article about the worrying decline of political engagement in the United States. He focuses on the news media near constant repetition of polling data about how much the American people "disapprove" of their Congress. I am certain similar data could be found in Britain on what citizens think of Parliament. He points out that expressing such disapproval is choosing nonengagement, to substitute expression an emotion for having an opinion that could lead to a substantive policy.

http://www.newcriterion.com/posts.cfm/Bargain-Basement-Opinions-6610

I think Bowman is quite correct about this. As much as we are displeased by our political classes, we have largely left governing and policy making to them, much as we leave medicine to doctors and air craft piloting to pilots. The difference is that politics is not something that we have found a way to teach as effectively as medicine or air craft piloting, because it is reliant upon many more factors outside of technical sciences.

My favourite quote from the article is at the end. I like Jon Stewart's Daily Show, but I consider its influence to be pernicious, particularly to young people. What is even more worrying is that The Daily Show, Stewart's nightly comedy/news program, is the main source of news about current events for a large portion of young Americans.

No one is putting anything over on you if you adopt the political views of Jon Stewart, who is so smart that he sees through everybody. But it is all just affectation — in Mr Stewart’s case as a smokescreen for his left-wing views. Often, however, people’s approval of him, like their disapproval of Congress, is politically inert and doesn’t translate into any movement of policy one way or the other. But it does tell us something worrying about our political culture itself: that people have learned to be pleased with themselves for holding it in contempt.
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Elliott » 30 Aug 2011, 02:20

There's a lot in this, and a lot that can be said.

Below your Bowman article is a comment from somebody in Britain who says, in essence, that the public are right to view politicians with contempt because the politicians are contemptible people. They are not worthy of respect.

I agree with that, and I think it is the core issue. It may well be that people are being contemptuous for the sake of it, but I think in this particular day and age, they happen to be right.

What modern British politician could rival Churchill, or Gladstone or Disraeli, or Enoch Powell, or even Thatcher?

Tony Blair changed everything in this regard (though, since it seems to be the same everywhere, I expect he was just a symptom of the times): from 1995 onwards, politicians were PR people. It is not necessary - indeed I suspect it is very hazardous - to have convictions in the world of politics.

Like nursing and teaching, politics has become a career ladder that you ascend by saying the right things and toeing the line. You do not do the job because you care or because it's your natural vocation, but because you can get money and power from it. You make yourself comfortable in the existing power structures, suck up to the people above you, and disrespect/humiliate the people below you. Change is illusory and "progress" refers solely to that of the bureaucracy you inhabit.

How can the public respect people who work like that, whilst claiming moral authority over the rest of us?

The expenses scandal a few years ago rocked Britain not because it was a surprise, but because it confirmed what everyone had suspected for ages. The amounts of money were often paltry but that only made it worse - Jacqui Smith claimed 88p for a bath plug when she was earning £140,000 a year. What kind of person does that?

Almost every day, new evidence emerges of the corruption in British politics. Yesterday the former head of MI5 revealed that Tony Blair had been specifically told that Iraq posed no threat to Britain, and attacking it would increase the risk of terrorist attacks on the British public. He went ahead anyway.

Until you get rid of the corruption in politics, there is little point asking people to be less contemptuous of politicians, and just as little point asking them to be "engaged" with politics. Our requests are ignored, our trust betrayed, our money wasted, our culture debased, our parliament subordinated to Brussels... no matter what we say or whom we vote for. The entire system is loaded against us and holds us in contempt: it is only right that we return the sentiment.

As for whether the public have contempt for politics because it's a way to appear clever without actually considering the issues... I can see evidence for this but I think it is pretty much inevitable given a certain level of State sophistication. If people are comfortable and have little to worry about (bins collected, roads safe, terrorists caught, elderly and vulnerable protected...), what need is there to contemplate political issues? Only when the issues affect oneself directly do they become pertinent. Even huge things like the Iraq war are distant problems to most people, and thus considering the rights and wrongs is really just an academic exercise. Most people considering such things are less interested in the truth than in feeling good about themselves. (A strong welfare system allows people to believe whatever they want.)

In other words, I think the public are generally happy for their lives to be organised by bureaucrats (civil servants), as long as they continue to live in comfort and safety. While this is so, engaging with politics is unnecessary. The result is contempt for politicians, because we assume that our comfort and safety, which we have known all our lives, are natural and would happen without those politicians.

Where this argument ends is with those issues which politicians refuse to touch. Things like immigration, education and law & order. We have lived comfortably for a long time, with the resulting contempt for politicians, and now that we need them to actually do something, we're finding that they actually deserve our contempt because they are inept.

Generations of them have been handed a national situation that was fairly easy to govern and so the political machine has degenerated into corruption. Now that the national situation is in need of major repair, our politicians simply aren't up to the task. They think frivolous equality legislation is more important than things like this. Why? Because it's all they are capable of.
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Gavin » 30 Aug 2011, 08:17

Interesting thread. See here Pat Condell's most recent video, relevant to this topic...
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Gavin » 22 Dec 2011, 19:18

Elliott mentions the expenses scandal above. Strange co-incidence how, of the three Labour peers who were suspended from the House of Lords due to their theft from the taxpayer, none of them were British born. They were: Muslim Amirali Alibhai "Amir" Bhatia, Muslim Manzila Pola Uddin and Hindu Swraj Paul. Between them these already wealthy individuals took over £200,000 from us while making the laws that run the land.

None of them even lost their peerages. My question: why were they not stripped of their nationality and returned to their home countries? The corruption ran deep in British politics while Blair was in power, aided and abetted by his disastrous policies of multiculturalism and "positive discrimination" (which was, better put, negative discrimination).
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Caleb » 24 Dec 2011, 01:20

Pat Condell is fantastic. He's a veritable tour de force.

I feel the same way as Michael about Jon Stewart. I was actually discussing this very issue with one of my closest friends, an American, last weekend. My friend is a big fan of Jon Stewart and I was saying that I can't watch Stewart, Maher, Colbert and their ilk these days. They're different in tone to the talking heads on the right of American political commentary in that they're at least funny, but I think that actually also makes them worse in some ways for the reasons mentioned in James Bowman's article.

What I find really interesting about my friend's interest in Jon Stewart is the following. Politically, he's much more of a centrist or even a very small liberal, though generally, he has pretty well thought out arguments, especially about economic issues. Actually, in terms of economic issues, we disagree on fundamental philosophical issues regarding human nature, but I respect his reasoning processes based upon his initial premises (even though I disagree with those). Politically, he's very akin to Warren Buffett, which is unsurprising since he's been heavily influenced by him in his semi-professional life as a value investor.

However, what does really frustrate me about my friend's interest in Jon Stewart is that he, as Bowman suggests, receives almost all of his information about current affairs from that source alone. In "normal" people, I would find this troubling, but unsurprising. My friend, however, will spend hundreds of hours investigating companies in minute detail before investing in them and is extremely sceptical about a wide range of issues from fraud (this year, he's actually conducted his own private investigations and subsequent analyses of fraud by various Chinese companies, and these have actually been picked up and used by some fairly large hedge fund managers) to religion. Whenever I see him, our conversations typically turn to such matters, and we often find ourselves discussing epistemological issues in the same vein as Nassim Nicholas Taleb. My friend is very much aware that all is not as it may seem.

My friend claims that Stewart is kind of a meta commentator (my words) on the American media, yet, as Bowman discusses, this is only partly true. He is part of the process as well in the same way other commentators are. Also, as mentioned, Stewart produces a smug disengagement from the process. Whilst that's not exactly true with my own friend, I think it is true in general of Stewart's fans. As such, I'm not sure that he should be regarded for anything other than his comedic talents.

Incidentally, I think it's quite ironic that in American culture at least, probably one of the few people who manages to bridge this divide between comedic cynicism and actual sincere engagement of the process (without coming off as a blowhard) is not left wing at all: P.J.O'Rouke.

With the exception of P.J.O'Rouke, I actually find American political commentary to be fairly uninteresting, at least in the mainstream, if he's even really considered mainstream (he does appear on mainstream shows and in mainstream publications, but I still don't know that he's part of the establishment). Mark Steyn (who is not American) kind of qualifies also, but I think he can be a bit undisciplined (and not that funny) when he appears in the American right wing media.

There is lots of stuff such as Conversations with History hosted by Harry Kreisler that is really top notch, but it's not really very well known. I suspect that it's as much to do with the format of most shows as the actual guests they get on and how they debate each other. The format seems to be driven by "excitement", which entails lots of flashy intros and music/sound effects, short segments, and periodic breaks either for comedic relief or to labour a special point. A show where a handful of adults have a very adult conversation without anyone having to get upset with each other or try to score cheap points for comedic effect (which doesn't mean it can't be amusing or insightful at points) doesn't seem like it would be that popular. That in itself speaks volumes about where the culture is at.
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Elliott » 13 Jan 2012, 06:03

Caleb, you mention Conversations with History. There's another series of interviews, Uncommon Knowledge, which I think is also really good.

I was going to start a separate thread but realised that what I wanted to say fits in pretty well with this one...

It seems to me that there is a certain strain, a certain type of person, becoming apparent in our culture just now. It is exemplified by Wikileaks (namely its founder, Julian Assange) and the Swedish Millennium series of books/films (namely its female lead Lisbeth Salander).

Assange and Salander both appear to believe that the establishment must be destroyed, that corruption is around every corner and that capitalism brings out the worst in people. Contrasting with "the world", they both have an innate sense of their own goodness and see their mission as unquestionably righteous. This, even when they are clearly (even to themselves) not pleasant people. Assange has said he is nasty and domineering, and Salander, albeit fictitious, is violent, asocial and deeply traumatised. Both are ruthless and vengeful. Both make their way in the cultural underworld - Salander with her tattoos and piercings, Assange with his Wikileaks entourage and the attendant groupies. Interestingly, given the times we live in, both are computer hackers (cognisant of the workings beneath the surface, and able to manipulate them, etc.). Both spring from Western countries that are not quite "top dog", Sweden and Australia. Both are products of the modern globalised world, able to travel to foreign countries and operate as if those countries were their home.

These two archetypes appeal to the new brand of uber-rebel, the Occupy types, because they brook no dissent. Show them any appealing aspect of tradition, the establishment, conservatism, etc., and they would be contemptuous of it, and of you. They have a sneering self-confidence that is deeply unpleasant but, presumably, "gets results".

I think this is relevant to the thread, contempt for politics, because I think these two characters exemplify the trait. They are within the West, and utterly opposed to it. It's a worrying sign that they both appeal to very large numbers of people.

Another manifestation of it, less psychopathic but equally extreme, is the film V for Vendetta which everyone seems to think is wonderful but which I found pretty mindless. It ends with the Houses of Parliament being destroyed. It can be no coincidence that the Guy Fawkes mask worn in that film now crops up in the Occupy protests.
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Gavin » 13 Jan 2012, 09:20

Agreed, Elliott. That certainly is a dumb and irresponsible film, as noted by Andrea.

We seem to have created a kind of playground wherein teenagers and even adults can think silly anarchic thoughts and stage protests which do not make any sense, live their sentimental and contradictory socialist fantasies, while other people actually work for a living, finding anything they can do, anything to offer as a service to people around them, just to get by. You know, like the old days.

Speaking of viewing, ITV television has reached a new depth. There is another review at The Guardian even more damning. I'm not sure this even warrants a new thread, but I saw this programme last night, and let's just say if it were 30 men evaluating a woman as if at a cattle market there would be a pubic outcry, and rightly so. But whichever way you look at it, it's trash, and it would still be trash then.

By the way, perhaps the title was taken from the opening line of the Smiths song There is a Light That Never Goes Out (highly relevant!)? Then again, perhaps not!
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Gavin » 22 Jan 2012, 10:54

A bit more viewing, and more on topic, I have just caught an episode of this programme The Big Questions on the BBC. It's one of those audience debate programmes. There seemed to be all the left wing liberals on one side, and all the conservatives on the right.

The liberals were quite unappealing and featured Alastair Campbell among their number. Also a Green Party member (probably more than one) and a St Paul's protestor wearing one of those ridiculous masks. True to the tradition of empty vessels making the most noise, the left wingers couldn't be quiet. They were naive in the extreme, one saying that happiness was having the freedom to do whatever you want. They had this sort of righteous yet ignorant manner which we see so often.

I'm not sure I can fully recommend this as viewing, because it is quite frustrating, but anyway there it is.
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Elliott » 22 Jan 2012, 17:36

Is it not bizarre to see Alastair Campbell allying himself with anti-corruption protesters, and for them not to object to it...?
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Gavin » 22 Jan 2012, 18:36

Yes indeed, all is forgiven and forgotten now, apparently!
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Re: Contempt For Politics

Postby Gavin » 21 Oct 2013, 18:33

I strongly dislike Alastair Campbell - foul mouthed left-wing media manipulator. He lined his pockets just as Blair did during their term. It grates to see him posturing as a moral person now in the media, and indeed it is astonishing how easily both left and right seem to have accepted him. Well, the MSM hardly seem to matter now, really.
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