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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Politics Now

Speaking from my minimalist experience, I can tell you politics is a blood sport; loyalty is demanded but scarcely returned, partisan benefit regularly (and increasingly) squeezes out broadly-based good public policy and individual human value counts for nothing.
It's funny - for all the attention paid to developing human narratives in support of partisan ambitions, politics is ultimately a dehumanizing process.  Comparisons to warfare are spot-on except instead of your life, it's your reputation that is constantly on the line. How many front-line staff have had their names torn to shreds in the media, sometimes just for following orders?  
And that's just the external risk.  Political campaigns (which never really end, these days) are kill-or-be-killed scenarios.  When you work an election, you get to see the uglier side of our democracy under high-pressure situations with little food and sleep. Frequently, you are given ample reason to question the people and beliefs you are fighting for. In your devotion to the bigger cause, you'll sometimes even find yourself justifying lapses in your own moral standards.  Unlike war, though, you can't always count on your teammates to have your back; they're just as likely to stick a knife in it if doing so serves their interests.  Where reputations and future success are at stake, you pretty much expect to be abandoned should ever you fall.

A lot of folk in politics believe that empathy is for the weak. These are the political Bill Kilgores that talk about victory but really see nothing but the battle. They will pathologically throw colleagues, staff and even leaders under the bus or download responsibility for their actions, never thinking twice about the consequence for others. It's kill or be killed, they tell themselves. We're doing what everyone else is doing, just more effectively. This probably comes as a surprise to nobody - there's a reason why we don't trust politicians. What's more of a surprise, I'd warrant, is just how many people in politics do have a conscience.
These aren't the folk that are in politics primarily for prestige or position, but because they (perhaps naively) actually believe in the system.  Most of them don't last long.  Those that do invariably end up with at least some innocent blood on their hands.  If you have any shred of decency, the things that you have endured and done to stay alive or support your cause will haunt you long after the election has ended.  Operators likes this wear their political sins like a chain, unseen yet chafing.

There's a reason dedicated campaign staff emerge from from the shadows of elections looking a bit like wraiths themselves, expressing PTSD-like symptoms.  Somewhere along the journey they've started to lose faith in the vision that motivated them in the first place and, therefore, are left to question just what it is they believe in and what they have sacrificed in support of that cause.
Why do we fall, though?  Because sometimes it takes feeling like you're in the bottom of the pit before you can really look around at the every-day people impacted by politics.  You also have to reach the bottom before you have reason to look up and see the light.  I can think of a couple high-profile people who have seen their entire lives dissected on the public stage - that kind of deconstruction invariably leads to some painful introspection as well.  One fella I recently had coffee with is in the process of re-findging himself and trying to figure out what his life should mean.  That was the key thing, though - it has to stand for something. 

Although these folk might not always have faith in themselves, it's the people who question the status quo and suffer from self-dout that give me the most hope

Why's that?

Because while things end, endings don't always mean what we expect them to.

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