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Twelvetide 22:09 politics

January 2, 2023

948e071f a2ea deff c787 944152cb1b1bBack in the 70s in my Liberation Theology days, we had a lot of conflict with conservative evangelicals over politics on top of the historical theological debate, which went back to the 1920s.  Our argument and it is one I would still make today is that choosing not to politically engage is itself a political act; it makes you complicit in whatever is the dominant political structure of the time.  The brilliantly aporetic statement “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” in Matthew 22:21 notwithstanding.  Unless you adopt a solipsistic position then you are part of a society in which the value of your and other people’s lives are impacted by what you do or don’t do.  I’ve always supported the Australian position of fining people who choose not to turn up and vote (they allow you to spoil the ballot).  In part that is driven by too many years of knocking on doors to get the vote out.  But I didn’t expect in the 70s that when I was approaching 70 (sorry I like that phrase so I’m using it again) to see active attempts at voter suppression in the UK, it’s been (and remains) depressing enough to see it in the USA and elsewhere.

Aside from that little whinge, the wider point is that because, as a species, we depend on each other and various civil institutions, politics in many and various forms is a distinctive aspect of human systems that you don’t see elsewhere so it clearly qualifies for this series of blog posts. I’m not planning to get into the particular form that politics should take but I am pretty sure that the current electoral cycle in most of the world’s countries is not good for the planet.  I’ve previously outlined by general views on what needs to change here, to increase empathy and engagement, and we have programmes on citizen engagement that I commend to you. Both of those links are incorporated into this post.

What I do want to do is to link politics to three other aspects of human distinctiveness to try and broaden the debate a little and start to pull together some of the threads in this series.

  1. I’ve long had a favourite quote from Italo Calvino, an Italian Communist who left the Party over the invasion of Hungry, that particular action by the Soviets broke the Communist Party in the UK as well and brought new energy into the British Labour Party in consequence.  Calvino said  “Literature is necessary to politics above all when it gives a voice to the one who doesn’t have a voice, when it gives a name to the one who doesn’t have a name, and especially to all that political language excludes or tends to exclude…Literature is like a ear that can hear more than Politics; Literature is like an eye that can perceive beyond the chromatic scale to which Politics is sensitive.” That is from his The Uses of Literature.   Equally, if you know anything about the history of opera, much of it has been a political protest by proxy to get around the censors and I still remember the revolutionary nature of opera productions in what was then East Berlin back in the time when I was popping backwards and forwards over the war for the WSCF.  Brecht may well be the architect of much in this space, but my overall point is that the whole field of art is entwined in political action and can’t be separated from it.
  2. Politics is also the art of persuasion and I think we have lost much by no longer teaching rhetoric in schools.  It was the main feature of Roman Education and the speeches of Cicero remain glorious examples of the use of language.  I was taught rhetoric in school, in part because I was on the debating team and taking part in weekly impromptu debates.  There was also a Lit & Deb society in the Town back in those days and as a sixth former I went there every week to learn, and also take on adult speakers.  The thing about learning rhetoric is that it makes you aware of the form of an argument and the differences between logic and persuasion.  That in turn makes you more than aware when games are being played with you either directly by politicians or on social media.  In general, teaching teaches the teacher as much as the pupil, or it should do and you can take that over to rhetoric.  The anodyne nature of some post-modernist positions which assert all views are equally valid remains problematic.   Equality the inability to speak to people from different backgrounds, to understand and emphasise with different persoectives and experiences, something which is key to politics, is decreasing evident in the sound bites and machine learning manipulation of social media.
  3. And then I come back to my first post on the energy efficiency of belief.  I’m currently a little submerged in gathering evidence for a post on Adult Development Theory (fundamentally flawed as far as I am concerned) and also linked material on meta-modernism.  The latter is to be honest worrying me as several of its proponents are attempting to design a new religion (a religion which is not a religion to reference Vervaeke, but there are others and too many overlaps with the toxic masculinity of Jordan Peterson and others to make me feel comfortable. A lot of the material I am reading seems to be culturally appropriate at best, and downright manipulative at worst.  Now those may be accidents of geography or podcasts hopes so the jury is out for me at the moment.  But religion in whatever form can’t be distinguished from politics.  I speak in part here as a victim of Socialist Sunday Schools when young!

I chose Raphael’s picture deliberately as the whole field of politics and with it rhetoric goes back to Greek Philosophy and its Latin inheritors in Europe and North America, it’s not the case elsewhere in the world and there are different types of interaction and forms.  There are interesting forms elsewhere from which we need to learn – the interaction of rules and heuristics in the balance between Confucianism and Daoism in Chinese society, gifting cultures in indigenous groups and in the latter case the recognition that in specific contexts not all views are equally valid.  Remember the theme here is Renaissance over Enlightenment and we need that badly in politics at the moment.

There is another unifying theme here, Aristotle compares the politician to a crafts(wo)man and brings all four causes into play.  Formal cause in a constitution, material cause in the various parts that make up society, efficient cause in the form of the ruler(s), and final cause in the sense of the desire for some good.  One gets a sense that we have rather lost the last of those in the modern age.


The School of Athens
Artist: Raphael Italy 1483-1520
The banner picture is cropped from an original sourced from wikipedia

As a general theme for the Twelvetide series this year, I am using Renaissance artists, ideally with a journey theme for the banner picture which may or may not relate to the ideas in the post. Then a Gaping Void image to open the text and make a point. Sometimes I will spell that out, sometimes I’ll leave it hanging.

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