Stink Politics. “Stink Politics” isn’t a standard term, as any Google search will verify – but the idea behind the phrase does resonate, doesn’t it? Whatever your political ‘leanings’, you’ll identify with or recognise the concept of Stink Politics. While it could be argued that politics has always been a rocky, fiery and tumultuous road, my impression is that Stink Politics has become the defacto standard rather than an episodic outbreak.
Political systems across the supposedly ‘stable’ developed world have been anything but stable in the post Global-Financial-Crisis period. Moving away from economic timeframes, commentators have noted the rise of nationalism and mused on possible causes for the 21st Century rise of separatism. Scotland almost left the United Kingdom no longer united. Great Britain has stated its intention to divorce the European Union (the “Brexit” scenario). There are so many secessionist movements globally that the list of separatist movements in Wikipedia is broken up into geographic regions! Hopefully these secession and separatist movements will result in political solutions through referendums and polling rather than war and conflict – and the last 100 years does at least provide some historical hope for such an outcome. Political systems are at their best when compromise and co-operation join forces to bring about outcomes that resolve war and conflict, as has happened in Northern Ireland and Rwanda.
From a “Western” perspective, political instability has traditionally been identified with “underdeveloped” or Third World nations, yet looking at the world today, it is “developed” nations and alliances that have been rocked by disruption and increasingly regular failures to achieve compromise. Somewhere in the future there is a coherent, linear storyline that neatly explains and summarises this phenomena but from here in 2016, the view is particularly foggy, so in the face of an unnamed foe, this post will use the term “Stink Politics”.
Stink Politics is an insidious force, as it reduces co-operation and removes the options for compromise – and we all know that compromise is one of the fundamental building blocks that a democratic system is established upon. In ‘standard’ democratic systems This Political Party (the TPP) makes a deal with That Political Party (the TPP) or this interest group makes a deal with that power bloc in order to keep the wheels of the nation turning. In the world of Stink Politics, there is no room for compromise or co-operation. Instead of compromise, Stink Politics results in angry and disenchanted voters voting against traditional power blocks and entrenched political systems – “just because”. Political leaders either share their constituencies anger or take a populist approach in order to build their own brand name. It’s hardly an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding…
Stink Politics reached something of a local nadir in the 2011 United States debt ceiling brinkmanship, highlighting belligerent politicians and supporters who were quite prepared to see the USA fail to meet its global debt obligations just to prove a point. Or to stop a black president. Or stop poor people from accessing affordable health care or some such thing. The actual reason counts less than the vivid display of Stink Politics in action, and the extremes that political leaders (aka “demagogues”) will go to in their zeal to follow an ideology or to achieve a specific outcome.
Stink Politics – bring back Ostracism!
If we accept Churchill’s line …
“Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time..”
then should the current trials and tribulations be seen as little more than an errant 3rd standard deviation from ‘normal’ outcome from operating the worst form of government?
Churchill’s observation of the “worst form of government” is tidily reflected in Stink Politics, yet should that stop us from trying to tweak the system ? Surely the correct course of action in the face of a failing process is to consider what needs to be changed to bring the process back into some form of ‘balance’?
How about re-installing one of the earliest methods of dealing with Stink Politics?
In modern parlance, ‘ostracism’ has a rather bad name. The term is associated with rejection, exclusion and repudiation. Ostracism can be seen as an outcome of bullying – but that is a modern interpretation.
Ostracism is not necessarily a dirty word in a political sense. It actually has a rather noble, albeit brief, history.
In the home of democracy – ancient Athens – the voting citizens were able to decide that there was someone that they disliked sufficiently that they would like to see that person pushed out of politics. In fact, the losing individual was not only pushed out of politics – they were exiled from Athens for 10 years. They did not lose their possessions or wealth but they did have to leave the city.
The idea was that the threat posed to democracy and democratic processes by some individuals could be reduced by removing that person from the political sphere. So the Ostracism process allowed a voting citizen a choice of voting FOR their preferred candidate through normal channels or AGAINST them through an ostracism vote.
Who would be Ostracized?
Hehehe.. This post will be out-of-date before it is even published but you can guess which election has driven the ostracism thoughts..
If we look at the USA today, it would appear that the major candidates would both poll well in an ostracism vote. Perhaps it would be possible for vote to ostracise more than one candidate?
How can the USA have 2 candidates the electorate doesn’t like?
Imagine if in the current climate of Stink Politics, citizens were able to vote to kick an individual or even two individuals out of politics altogether! Maybe not 10 years but perhaps 2 full election cycles? Now that would create a bit of a change, wouldn’t it? At the least, the protest vote would actually provide a legitimate alternative voting methodology.
Even the ancient Athenians realised that their democracy held flaws. Ostracism was one way of handing power to the mass of voters who were not conspicuously famous or powerful individuals. The Athenian Ostracism process was only actively utilised for a relatively short timeframe but it’s power as a tool for expressing dissatisfaction was unprecedented. For those with an interest in history and a more demanding need for detail, here is a broader look at Ostracism.
Ostracism may not solve the issues of divisive Stink Politics. It may actually trigger even more unforseen issues. But you’d have to think that in a world where the ‘average’ voter feels disenfranchised, demoralised, fearful and angry that the process of ostracism would at least allow for a more transparent expression of all that negative emotion.
Why do we even have Stink Politics?
Good question. And one that won’t be covered in any great detail in this post. It does however, make sense to at least attempt to list possible causes:
- Increased income inequality, with all the angst that this creates
- Those on the lowest incomes have suffered most
- Even though studies do not find a link between inequality and conflict, political voting expressions can be and are impacted as disenfranchised voters exercise their right to vote as they choose
- Hollowing out of the so-called “middle class”. Most Americans no longer are middle class
- Reduced access to the rungs of the ladder of success for those aspiring for bigger and better things
- This more academic study suggests aspirations too high above your current situation can lead to conflict and exasperation
- Scientific American suggests most Americans believe upward mobility exists, even in the face of contrary evidence
- Wealthier populations less willing to share with the disadvantaged?
- Stable populations unwilling to face the prospect of instability if they were to share with the unstable? Mexican wall, anyone?
- Is it the rebellious yet conservative 77 million strong Baby Boomer generation arguing with itself?
The economic arguments are nicely presented in this viral infographic video from 2012.
Perhaps the global phenomenon of Stink Politics is best summed up by an American perspective..
“Americans actually live in Russia, although they think they live in Sweden. And they would like to live on a kibbutz.” (journalist Chrystia Freeland in Scientific American)
Can it be as simple as unrealistic or overblown expectations? And if it is – what has happened to create the shortfalls between expectations and reality?
Stink Politics and perceptions
In developed nations there are usually a multitude of counterbalancing institutions and processes that help keep those nations stable. The judiciary helps balance the legislative bodies, and legislative bodies help balance the competing interests of trading and commerce against society expectations of right, wrong, fairness and sanction. The populace sign invisible social contracts inked in the language of their place of birth, and in return for safety and opportunity hand over control of their life and death to this interlinked web of social institutions and counterbalances.
Democracies are not democratic
At least, not in the way a superficial look would suggest.
In developed nations there is a fundamental acceptance that the majority wins, even if the win is not by an actual majority. A recent point-in-case being the triggering of “Brexit” and the departure of England from the European Union (“EU”), on the basis of a “Yes” vote by 17,410,742 people against 16,141,241 who voted “No“. Mathematically this amounts to 51.89% voting to leave the EU and 48.11% voting to stay. However, there is a ‘silent majority’ that did not take part in that referendum vote. The details are shown in the chart below:The Brexit results suggest more is at play than a simple example of a close referendum vote count. The results suggest that while 17,779,426 people voted for the United Kingdom to leave the EU, there were 33,920,667 who didn’t.
Simple mathematics would suggest that politics and political outcomes are going to stink for 66% of the population. That ain’t gonna make for a happy populace. At the least, the Brexit result is a magnificent example of representative democracy providing a result but increasing uncertainty.
IF 66% of those who were eligible to vote DID vote, AND voted to leave the European Union THEN there would be less uncertainty. Whether you voted “Yes”, “No” or chose not to vote, the results would categorically confirm that a majority wanted to leave the EU, and citizens of a representative democracy would concede to the result even if they voted “No”. But that is not what happened.
Uncertainty is a worry…
In times of uncertainty, human nature is to seek certainty. Yet logic and human history suggest that certainty is anything but certain. A lack of certainty causes anxiety, which can impact upon our state of mind, our decision-making skills and our ability “to enjoy the moment”. In other words, we stop enjoying the moment, we fret and worry about threats whether real or imagines, and we reduce our ability to view issues objectively.
For a pre-USA-election example of this fear in action, consider the Reno Trump rally, where Donal Trump was rushed off stage. It turns out the “threat” was a protester with a protest sign. A protest sign resulting in Secret Service intervention..? Is this a haunting vision into the future that Stink Politics can lay at our feet?
Here is an extract from an article found at http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/how-uncertainty-fuels-anxiety/388066/
In an ambiguous or unpredictable situation, the brain is going to look for clues in the environment, things it knows from past experience are associated with threat or safety. If this is unsuccessful, and the brain can’t tell what is dangerous and what isn’t, then anything could seem like a threat. Threat and safety detection has been linked to the amygdala, and emotion regulation seems to be the domain of the prefrontal cortex. Grupe also thinks the insula could play a role in processing information about the body and its environment to help create internal, subjective feelings.
“These processes are so intertwined,” Grupe says. “There’s a silly figure at the end of the paper with arrows pointing in every direction.”
Uncertainty leads to Fear
So turning to another representative democracy in the shape of the United States of America, how has uncertainty impacted sources of fear within the community?
And we all know that outside of our basic fight-or-flight reactions to fear and uncertainty, fear can lead us to awful outcomes. At times such as this, maybe the appropriate response is to become flippant – or look as far from mainstream as possible?
Fear empowers Demagogues
Oh yes indeed it does.
Demagogues love uncertainty. It creates an environment in which truths can be combined with falsehoods to create certainty where no certainty exists.
Actually, it may be best not to consider demagogues in the Stink Politics of 2016 as the list of potential candidates for the title runs very long…
What can be done about Stink Politics?
Another good question. We can just muse on some of the possible solutions to bring about a reduction in Stink Politics:
- Introduce and pass (altogether different events, especially in the world of Stink Politics) legislation to inhibit and curb Citizens United, the USA Supreme Court 2010 ruling that opened the doors to unlimited lobbying expenditure.
- Big Money corrupts, and Huge Money corrupts absolutely
- “Corporations are people, and they have more rights than you” – Huffington Post
- Provide a legitimate avenue for the underrepresented, the dispossessed and the disconnected to all be given a voice in political discussion
- But does this just encourage minority party fraction?
- Who and how? It’s one thing to say something ‘should’ be done but it’s an altogether different thing to come up with a way of actually achieving a stated aim
- Open a discussion on whether there are prerequisites for standing to be an elected representative? Would it help if there were more selection criteria for aspiring political leaders to leap over?
- Provide an outlet for the population to express its dissatisfaction with candidates.
All of these options are difficult or borderline impossible to gain even a modicum of agreement on. Apart from that last one. It may be a regression to populism but perhaps the times are a changing, and in the world of Stink Politics there is room for something different?
The Truth is out there. Or is it?
One of the victims of Stink Politics is Truth.
Ever elusive even in the best of conditions, Truth suffers terribly at the hands of demagogues, pressure groups, partisan politics, ideology and profit-focused ventures. And Stink Politics arguably involves a brutal mix of all these factors, so what chance does Truth have in the world of Stink Politics?
It was once suggested that the internet was the great leap forward that would democratise information, and bring the benefits of truth and transparency to the masses. The reality has been somewhat different to the ideal. Somehow, the existence of incredible levels of knowledge and information has failed to resolve many questions of just what is true and what is not. Think of the proliferation of conspiracy theories. Perhaps the greatest access to facts and information ever in the history of the human race is still not enough to stop we humans be from ever so human? Here is an article from Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times suggesting that human psychological frailties have sabotaged the internet information age’s ability to inform, update and diversify.
Political lies, omissions, ‘fibs’, obfuscation and demagoguery should be readily exposed in an information soaked world yet this is not the case. Fact-checkers can produce their expose’s yet political leaders and demagogues seemingly continue unabashed. Is this an internet failure or is this the ultimate doom of a relativistic and secular world?
The Financial Times has an article questioning the rise of nationalism in a technologically empowered world that is well worth the read.
The New York Times has been here before us…
This Ostracism line of thought is not just a StillThinking ponder…
The New York Times has actually been down this road before… In 2003 an article was published “Ostracized in Athens : Ancient Greeks knew how to dump bad pols“.
The real threat posed by Stink Politics is that it veils our perception of longer term changes by misdirecting our focus towards short term changes. Bill Gates suggested that “we overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term” in technological change. If we translate that thought to Stink Politics there is reason to be concerned. This is what is keeping the StillThinking world on edge of late.
Reading and Links
Taking Stink Politics to an extreme, this study hints at a link between body odor and political inclinations (although the study size was small and do we really choose a mate based on ideology?).