Politics is about collective decision making. It’s hard not just because people disagree about the answers to particular questions, but even more so because they disagree about how those questions relate to one another. The answer you get depends on the question you ask, and politics is about trying to find agreement on the questions as much as it as about trying to find answers to the questions agreed on. It’s why ‘taking the politics out’ of a question’ is never possible (though taking a question out of one political process and putting it into another is entirely possible and frequently done, often with the assertion that the second process is not political)
I had a go at putting that into words a couple of years ago, starting with the question of the shape of the humps in my road, and going all the way through to world peace (not quite, but nearly). I had another go yesterday, this time starting with the apparently more straightforward question of how to open a door. Neither, I fear, quite gets to the heart of why decision making in political environments can be more than a bit tricky. Then, thanks to a couple of fortuitous tweets, I came across this presentation by Anthony Zacharzewski of the Democratic Society, which with great economy includes at slide 20 the thought that:
Representative democracy is about mass compromise, not mass personalisation
That’s a really powerful idea. How we do we best compromise with a nation full of mainly strangers? With a city, a village, a street – or a world? Politics is the art of finding ways to answer that question.
It’s well worth looking through the whole presentation – there are a lot of slides, but they are all very pithy, and some real gems scattered among them (including a superbly tasteless image of the ineffectiveness of flogging a dead horse). Whether or not you end up being persuaded by their solution, the analysis of the problem is beautifully done.