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Eureka: A fireside chat on political philosophy
by Jay Gutman
2018-05-28 05:56:22
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When discussing politics, you might discuss the President or Prime Minister and their personalities, either lacking charisma or coming out as too straightforward. You might discuss general issues like abortion, gay marriage or gun control, or might favor one political party over the other. You might be a Hollywood movie buff and see presidents followed around by snipers watching over them.

But what exactly is politics? When the government decides to create a commission, that's politics. When the government decides on welfare budgets, that's also politics. When taxes fall or rise, that's also politics. And when the government decides on new business regulations, the removal of regulations, social regulations or environmental regulations, that's also politics. In fact, almost everything we do in life has some political dimension. So in this fireside chat, I will try to discuss politics in ways few have discussed before.

Why need politics in the 21st century?

philosop01_400In modern times, a lot of young people don't view religious life as an important part of their life. But when you get married and have children, religion starts to play a role in some couples, mainly because they feel they need some kind of rules to govern their life. Others think of religion as having a less important role throughout their lives.

When social media started becoming big, a lot of us thought that we could finally focus on the news of loved ones rather than of on the news about politicians and the social elite we don't really care about. But in times of crisis, politicians become more visible. It can either be their perfect handling of crises, or complete mishandling of crises.

Let me give you two very concrete examples of when you had strong politics, and when you had absence of politics. In 2009, with the outbreak of the H1N1 virus in South Korea, the Korean government was constantly meeting and discussing with health experts and politicians how to control the outbreak. Drastic measures were taken. Sanitizers were placed everywhere. At the entrance of almost every building, you had infrared cameras that could detect high temperature or abnormal temperature. People with temperature problems were sent back home. Hospitals were on the alert and had taken most necessary measures. Field trips and events involving group activities were reduced to a minimum. This was under the Lee Myung Bak administration. Lee Myung Bak was famous for his conscious handling of political affairs, but also for his greed and willingness to always add a few bucks to his account.

Now in 2015, under Park Geun Hye's presidency in South Korea, President Park was something of a child at the helm of state affairs. She was present at token events, but was completely incapable of legislating or ruling. She held few meetings, gave few conferences and interviews, and was suspicious of politicians getting together to discuss policy. She had something of a break from political reality, and did not encourage her team to go find out what's going on in the ground. A Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome outbreak took place, and Park, I'm talking rumors here, tried her best not to reveal the outbreak to the public. The press was hesitant to talk about the outbreak, fearing reprisals, so people took to social media to speculate on the outbreak. There were no hand sanitizers, no infrared cameras, group activities were not suspended, and people who showed symtoms of a cold were forced to go to work. This was one of many issues that were kept secret from the public, as other disasters were kept secret from the public, and are still a secret.

So what do you need politics for? You need politics for the following.

-The regulation of military, environmental, political, economic and social life.

-Elaborating strategies on military, environmental, political, economic and social issues.

-Designing budgets and collecting statistics on military, environmental, political, economic and social issues.

-Crisis prevention and management in military, environmental, political, economic and social issues.

-Elaborating healthcare, policing, social activities like sports, education and tourism, elaborating budgets and financial policies and so on.

With populations getting larger and resources still scace, most governments can not help but be centralized and legislate on the collective, rather than leaving management to smaller units. But there are varying degrees of political philosophies and people don't always agree on what the government should or shouldn't do. 

Politics in the tabloid journalism era

As I said before, ideas are discussed in journals. Events are discussed in newspapers. And people are discussed in tabloids. There's a growing trend where it's not the ideas being discussed, it's not the events being discussed, it's the politicians who are being discussed.

This has several implications for politics and politicians. When there's so much focus on politicians, politicians will try their best to get tabloid headlines to play in their favor. They will tend to promote ideas with high popular approval ratings, even when such ideas are not logically, economically or socially the best ideas to promote. Angela Merkel's “refugees” welcome policy was a case in point, and Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau followed suit by championing the welcoming of refugees. Neither had clear ideas nor clear events set up to welcome refugees. Sleeping in a tent in the freezing temperatures of Germany or Canada may not be the best idea, but in an era of tabloid journalism, Merkel and Trudeau knew what they were doing.

Tabloid journalism can also prompt politicians to take decisions or fast-track decisions to get popular reviews, or can promote ideas to get popular articles. Partly why I never read politician biographies save a few exceptions is that politicians will tend to “fix” their biographies because they know it will play in their favor during campaigns and in tabloid reviews. Others will pay tabloid to write positive reviews, and invent a couple of facts about their previous life along the way. Tabloid journalism also means that politician's private lives can destroy their political careers. So what the president had an affair?

As they say, when it comes to politicians, you always get bad or worse. Same goes for CEOs or for any supervisor. It's hard enough to get anyone to do anything, let alone run a government. So for all those stories recounting the heroic past actions of politicians, I tend to remain skeptical.

What are the different types of political systems?

There are essentially five pillars of politics, and in each pillar most investments can be private, public or a mixture of both and each pillar has a strategy. Here's how it works.

The military: Budgeting in the military can be exclusively made by the government, could be made by private funds, by a small group of large military enterprrises, by foreign public funds, foreign privates funds or a mixture of all those. Few politicians have clear positions over whether military budgets should be private, public, foreign, domestic or a mixture of those. Military strategy can be offensive, defensive, laissez-faire a mixture of all three.

The Environment. Same goes for the environment. You could use public funds, private funds, olligopoly funds, foreign funds or local funds to protect the environment. Environmental policy can also be offensive, as in going after those who destroy the environment, or defensive, as in taking defensive measures for the environment or laissez-faire policy with the environment.

Political life: Budgeting in political life can be done through public funds, private funds, olligopoly funds, local funds, foreign funds or a mixture of all those. Some countries have governments funded by private foreign corporations, while others are funded by the local taxpayer, with many other combinations. Political systems can be offensive, as in going after the citizen, or defensive, as in defending itself from threats of the citizens and protecting citizens from threats or laissez-faire.

Economic life. Same here, can be public funds (communism) or olligopoly funds or private funds, local funds or foreign funds. Some economies are dominated by foreign corporations, others by local big firms, others by small local firms, others by small public firms and so on. Governments can have offensive strategies against the economy and can rule the economy with a stick, or defensive strategies toward the economy and protect corporations and citizens from threats or laissez-faire.

Social life. By social life I mean health, education, sports, associations, the police, public life, housing etc. etc. Budgets can hail from the public sector, private sector, olligopolies, local funds or foreign funds. Social policy can be offensive, as in going after society, defensive, as in protecting society from all sorts of threats, or laissez-faire.

What are the different types of political philosophies?

Most political philosophy has to do with budgeting and action. Where do we get the money, and what kind of action do we take?

Let's go through the different budgets and actions that can be taken in political life.

-Most funds hail from public funds. Few countries have succeeded at operating budgets with large portions coming from public funds. This system is known as Communism, and most Communist states had to rely heavily on foreign aid and all kinds of corner cutting to get the funds in. To be able to get public funds running you will need to have very profitable public enterprises, and your leaders need not to be corrupt so you can keep public budgets up and running. Easier said that done, although some oil monarchies have succeeded at this.

-Most funds hail from olligopolies. This would mean a small select group of private enterprises will have to be very profitable and keep steady inflows of cash. Again, this means a lot of them will have to cut corners to keep the cash flowing. Famous examples are France, Japan and South Korea, but the viability of this model is often discussed, because governments and private citizens depend on a large part on the whims and tantrums of the olligopolies.

-Most funds come from private funds. This is a safe way to budget. This guy does well as this other guy isn't doing very well. You always have some people bringing the cash in while others fail to bring the cash in. The problem is when people start collectively taking risks, you could have the economy collapse. In olligopolies, usually you often have one corporation that takes risks while others opt for risk-free investments. 

-Most funds hail from foreign public funds. This means you rely on development aid, and countries who are giving you aid want you to either start profitable public enterprises, olligopolies or private enterprises so you can depend on your own income.

-Most funds hail from foreign private enterprises. Foreign investment is always good, but too much of it can lead to what some people call “neo-colonialism.” That is if you depend too much on the funds of foreign enterprises, you run the risk of being a second-class citizen in your own country.

Now regarding political action.

-Offensive action. Some governments like to take offensive action when it comes to the military, the environment, politics, the economy or society. That is they like to go after their citizens who risk causing trouble and punish them, and believe citizens will only behave if they are punished. Some view this as totalitarian, while others think that people will misbehave if you're not offesive with them.

-Defensive action. Some governments like to stay still and only intervene if citizens or institutions or the environment need to be defended. That is you stay back, watch, and if someone gets hurt, you come rescue them.

-Laissez-faire. Some governments believe you should not intervene, be it offensively or defensively. If someone's in trouble, let them stay in trouble. Don't go after people who risk causing trouble nor do you defend people from trouble.

Competing for political power

In any political insitution, you have the politicians, then you have their protection services, then you have their intelligence services. Of course those in power have access to protection services and to national intelligence services.

In some countries, all political candidates have access to protection services and to equal intelligence sharing. In other countries, some candidates can have access to protection services while others don't. In some countries, some candidates have access to national intelligence while others don't.

This can lead to assymetric campaigns, as those with protection services will take more risks than those who are not protected. Those with access to intelligence will be better able to inform the public than those who don't have access to the intelligence.

What is the current political world order?

Some would be tempted to say that the current world order is a mix of globalization and laissez-faire, but that would be taking shortcuts. The current world order is what I would call a “mixed” world order. That is a world order in which most countries use public funds to a certain extent, have olligopolies to a certain extent, have private enterprises to a certain extent, have foreign public funds injected in them to a certain extent and have private foreign funds injected to a certain extent, be it in the military, in the environment, in politics, in the economy and in social affairs.

Most countries also adopt a mix of offensive, defensive and laissez-faire approaches to the military, environmental life, political life, economic life and social life. That is the government can be offensive regarding the environment for example, but defensive on social issues while adopting a laissez-faire approach to the economy. So there's no single trend emerging. Iran is offensive militarily and socially, perhaps economically defensive while adopting laissez-faire policies on the environment. South Korea is defensive militarily, while employing offensive approaches to the economy and laissez-faire approaches socially, alternating between defensive and offensive policies on the environment while being very offensive on the political front. The idea is it varies from country to country.

Conclusion: what we think politics is and what it really is

When we think of politics, with think of leaders and politicians, their biographies, their public and private lives. We rarely think of politics in terms of budgeting and taking action on public issues.

What can we learn from all this? Is your country adopting socially aggressive policies? Do you agree that social policy should be offensive and aggressive? The problem is I've met a lot of people, many of whom have completely different approaches to politics. We tend to say we are one big human family and tend to identify as democrat or republican, yet have completely different views on how budgets should be distributed and how action should be taken. I've met republicans who think there should be more  foreign investment. Other republicans who think the government should spend more. Democrats who think the government should take offensive approaches to the economy. Democrats who think we should take defensive approaches to the economy.

Despite appearances, there tends to be very little group think in politics. A lot of politics is consensus, and a lot of it is not even conscious or deliberate. To finish I was going to write a section on conspiracy theories which I ended up deleting. We tend to think of conpracies as the government colliding to secretly impose policy, disaster or assasinations on people. While psychological operations do exist where the government attempts to create an atmosphere of anxiety, especially in times when there may be wars looming, but a lot of the conspiracy theories you'll read about online are pure fabulation. What is the truth? The only truth is no one knows the whole truth.

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