Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Taking sides

I often browse blogs I wouldn’t normally visit, flitting in a dilettantish way from link to link as I’m sure we all do from time to time. One thing that strikes me quite forcibly is how prone we are to take sides on all kinds of issues, very much as football supporters do.

In fact I can’t help thinking it’s the same thing – support a football club, vote for a political party, claim to understand the climate or economy, wave the flag, argue for this or argue for that. Taking sides seems to be an aspect of social cohesion in that we can't have one without the other.

So the inevitable question arises, what if my views are no more that taking sides? Accidents which could have gone some other way if I'd been the son of a stockbroker or a miner. Or even a minor for that matter. How would I set about testing myself by spitting out the silver spoon or hawking up the coal dust? How would I reassure myself that I’m a truth-seeker rather than just another cheer-leader for my side?

Well I’m pretty sure the short answer is that I can’t. If I cheer for one side or another then there’s a reason for it, which may revolve around analytical dedication, but equally likely may not. I may just be a game-player, a side-taker. For one thing, it's usually easier. The only real essential is to know who is playing and who to support. The question of why need not be an issue.

There is only one test I can think of and that is detachment. I don't think I’m a keen supporter in the footballing sense because I don’t care deeply about either side. I’m not greatly interested in persuading anybody about anything, mostly because I accept the absolute necessity of competing points of view. I also like to feel I'm at least trying to be a detached observer, which may be a semi-detached illusion but at least it's worth a go.

Because social cohesion must have its asymmetric tensions where people not only disagree on who best to applaud, but are led to applaud neither and explore other possibilities instead. Otherwise there is no movement and the search for truth falters or stalls altogether. It is here that I see the main issue with politics – a hugely ironic lack of diversity. Politics is all about taking sides.

We simply don't do political detachment.

As a result, political commentary tends to be dull cheer-leading unless delivered with wit and verve. It is the wit and verve, the memorable phrase and the one-liner that carry the day in political commentary and it's pretty rare. Without a dash of wit, politics is mostly a matter of preaching to the converted. The rest of us, though we may have something important to offer, don't seem to count.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Before we even worry about "what is to be done" the key is to try and understand the world as it actually is, and then try and work out why, then decide whether there are things which we could do better, or worse, or whether certain things are best left alone.

Most people genuinely do not have a clue, there are very few inquisitive minds, they just regurgitate stuff from the Guardian or the Daily Mail or the Sun and that is the end of it.

Debating with such people is of course futile.

Anonymous said...

No accident that many politicos train as lawyers - rhetorical trickery being a big part of the training. To lie like a lawyer is a time honoured phrase.

To be fair the top judges do the job properly - numbered paragraphs, clear reasoning carefully explained with sources quoted.

So pull out all the microphones and make all transactions in writing - talking only allowed on Friday afternoons.

A K Haart said...

Mark - yes, few people have inquisitive minds. It's hard going at times.

Roger - transactions in writing? Maybe, but more honesty would do for me.

Anonymous said...

Well, it is hard to conceal a lie or bad logic with numbered paragraphs, carefully explained logic and quoted sources.

That which is done exactly is seldom done badly.