Value Politics

June 9, 2015

Values in Regard to Politics

Note: I began a draft  of this post on February 2 and then lost track of it until June. In part, this reflection led me to drop out of the discussion group a couple months later. I also mulled over the demands upon me during a break in San Antonio as I sorted out the press of other projects against the uncertainty of the future and my time to work on them.

I belong to a monthly all-male discussion group that considers various topics and their political dimensions. We are all professionals of some sort, most retired. Except for an avowedly conservative member, we tend to be liberal or progressive with one libertarian. Our discussions are free-wheeling, largely contextual, and nearly never conclusive. My view remains that these meet-ups are far from the symposiums dating from ancient models, neither in manner nor pursuit. Amazing how conversation has lost its rigor in the last 2500 years. At least, so it seems to me.

Our convenor does his job well in making sure everyone is heard. He prompts the discussion with opening questions and even offers summaries in the absence of group conclusions. My major disappointment is that no thread develops in these discussions; hardly ever does a statement grow and morph with subsequent speakers. What we have, by in large is an exchange of views.

So mostly, I participate as a means of hearing others that I do not otherwise meet and examining my own views beyond my usual attention to what I read and think about. I can’t say that I learn much except how others think and speak.

In January we decided that in February we would look at Minnesota legislative politics in regard to transportation and education issues. No one was given the charge of sources, so some filled the void with email references to partisan bills newly introduced or to newspaper articles. The convenor in one email described this process as “loosey,” an apt term, I thought.  Then he suggested a most admirable approach. We should come prepared to state our values as far as they influence our political decisions. Now we are getting somewhere, I thought.

I went to work in my usual way. First mulling over what I specivically think. Then jotting some thoughts. Next writing more definitive statements. The morning of, I was at the typing and rewriting stage. Finally printing eight copies for distribution. I was very pleased with myself but did worry that it was too cerebral and might be regarded as presumptuous, or worse, pretentious. I would see how the discussion went.

Alas, there was no discussion on values. The closest we came was mention of Jonathan Haidt’s The Religious Mind. In the flow of talk, I expressed myself in a couple areas, fueled by what I had thought about and written. Next month we are talking about the impact of drones.

On the way home, I thought I might as well get some more use out of what I had written and therefore supply the following as I had prepared it to share.

Definition: Human values are principles, intrinsically desirable, that guide and govern actions toward appropriate and beneficial outcomes. Values in order to be operational follow from human virtues. Virtue (the strength to do what is right) is both intellectual and moral.

  1. Politics, being the means of achieving agreement for the common good and general benefit, centers the human experience.
  2. In a representative government, the locus of power resides in the public through duties shared and exercised by the people and their elected representatives.
  3. The burden upon the public as the electorate is to engage in the political process in order to select and replace representatives who best serve them through the political system.
  4. Effective selection of political representatives depends upon the knowledge and discernment of the electorate.
  5. Existence of an informed and competent public assumes that learning the ability to learn remains a lifetime requirement.
  6. The mechanisms of learning are multiple and at the disposal of the learner.
  7. In a democracy, the people provide formal education for one another as one mechanism of learning, one that aims at being foundational – that is, learning how to learn fseor the lifetime.
  8. The strength of politics and its achievement depends heavily on these values and their practices in the general culture.

These 8 expressions are primarily stands reached by examining history and philosophies of human well-being.

1. Today the media in emphasizing conflict to the extent of the language it uses – “battleground states,” “war chests,” and the like – presents politics as adversarial when politics exists to bring us to accord and harmony. We are made to think that agreement is impossible unless some party holds the majority in order to make decisions for our benefit. Certainly we have governmental challenges, but it is partisanship not politics that is to blame.

2. The result of the emphasis on partisanship is that the public grows cynical and loses the realization that they are the responsible body in the politics of representation. We fail to realize that politics is a shared endeavor, and we neglect to do our part as citizens.

3. The duty of the electorate to select representatives faces a challenge when the preferences of some outweigh the good of all and the long run of history. The public is not meant to be divided into competitive parties when the aim of politics is to reach agreement.

4. Knowledge and discernment come to the aid of comity. They open and widen understanding; they generate and sustain tolerance. They change perspective from I-am-first to we-live-together.

5. Learning if it is to be fully useful must continue in the face of change, forgetting, and responsibilities that do not end.

6. Many ways to learn run parallel with one another and meet learners as they differ and change. Parents and other adults guide and model for children and one another. Conversation moves from the phatic (establishing relationships) to the enlightening. Books and libraries, though existing for millenia constitute an enormous heritage and have been greatly extended to the public in the last 200 years. Media may distract from learning but continues to be full of potential in support of learning. We can choose to learn or choose to be entertained to an extent that becomes a distraction and interferes with learning.

7. Schooling, though loaded with a number of expectations, at basis only succeeds when it prepares us for life through setting us on the path of learning how to learn and thereby pursuing our own on-going learning. We then  progress from the basics to increasing breadth and complexity while enabling ourselves with learning skills the chief of which are thinking, deciding, choosing, communicating, creating, and participating in community life – all aspects of learning and means of learning in themselves.

8. Alas, we live in a culture that often assumes schooling to be the whole and end of learning. Instead contemporary culture promotes consumption over the renewing of ourselves.

In short, I am not hopeful about our prospects. I continue to desire course corrections, but I bother myself that improvements are not ahead. Our adversarial nature and innate selfishness without the redemption of commonality and human well-being hold our future precariously, tipping to ruin and loss.