«Politics everywhere!»

First thing I usually do when I get up in the morning is to check the news. Maybe, that’s a mistake in the first place. Anyway, it usually hits me – like a bolt of lightning – that politics is everywhere in the papers.

You can do this yourself at home: Please count all articles of a random newspaper you can find, and then let me know how many stories are about some corrupt national politician, a new international treaty, or at least remotely related to a protest taking place in the streets of your neighborhood. Believe me, the ratio will make you spit your morning coffee! Call it the ubiquitous media bias, but there is certainly a tendency towards political issues.

Like the tentacles of that beautiful creature, the octopus, politics is literally everywhere we go, all we talk about, and most we can think of… it seems to be that people are obsessed with it. Or worse, we cannot resist its temptation.

Even if we don’t call for the «tentacles» of politics directly, we oftentimes feel the urge to depend on them; as if there were no other option to bring something challenging under «control». But then again, we often dislike what we get eventually. It’s similar to that terrible headache you regret the day after a great night out with your friends.

I don’t mean to sound like a person who underestimates the importance of certain political procedures, in particular if they are helpful in maintaining a peaceful social order. However, today’s reach of politicians is far away from simply setting and overseeing the «house rules», it has become a game of its own – and it’s a rather nasty business.

Politics has never been and likely won’t ever be a pleasant venture – at least not for the man on the street. Further, don’t make the mistake to think that politicians are primarily here to hold «shit» together; they’re not. Politics is mainly about power, special interests, the dark triad, changing your values, and (most of the time) wasting your money. Milton Friedman hit the nail on the head when pointing out that politics can’t rely on angels but must be content with humans.

Enough research in economics, psychology, and other fields, has shed light on the actual workings behind political scenes. Or, as the German playwright Bertolt Brecht famously put it:

«Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.»*

It seems like there doesn’t exist any «safe space» from politics (now that we actually need one!). Most of the political performances you watch on TV and listen to on radio is supposedly important and vital to our well-being. It’s not though. Ask your friends who live in «broken» southern Italy, or «bankrupt» Greece. Life goes on, with or without those suit-wearers.

Luckily, we can change the status quo of blind loyalty. How? Get yourself dirty. Help others, not only your neighbors. Be friendly towards your fellow human beings – everyone, and not only those who accidentally share your supposedly so important skin color!

Or, to put it slightly differently, if you aren’t even capable of cleaning your own tiny desk (Jordan Peterson’s «rule 6»), don’t make other people do it by calling for the tentacles of politics!

Hence, if you can’t control your feelings next time, at least ask yourself why it should be you who may patronize others (and not someone else «infantilizing» you). Asking yourself that question may help you obtain a different view on things.

Instead of engaging in politics, start using your short, precious time on this beautiful planet in a different way – maybe by abstaining from voting next time when you can choose between two old guys you’ve never met before. And then, because you saved yourself some time, please tell me why you used to rely on politicians more than on your own mamma, me or that beautiful lady at the bus stop!

 

*Which translates into: «Food is the first thing, morals follow on.»
– Believe me, the German phrase is really catchy!

The Allegory of the Cave – A Warning Against Political and Ideological Bigotry

Plato’s allegory of the cave (from Republic) is probably the best known simile for truth-seeking. It’s based on a talk between Socrates and Plato’s older brother Glaucon. However, as much as it describes epistemology, it is metaphorically concerned with political corruption and ideological bigotry as well.

Plato’s allegory begins as follows: Socrates is likening the “prisoners” dwelling in a cave to us humans.

“From the beginning people like this have never managed, whether on their own or with the help of others, to see anything besides the shadows that are continually projected on the wall opposite them by the glow of the fire.”

This critical description of humans is fundamental to the allegory. Socrates argues that people consider “real” what they see (artifacts on the wall) and hear (sounds reverberating off the wall), thereby remaining ignorant about the truth.

Now, Plato sets the stage for the philosopher, the wise man, to free the prisoners, one by one, from “their lack of insight”.

At first, the prisoner that is now unchained can’t see the fire (which used to be behind him as the source of the artifacts on the wall). Steadily, though, he gets used to the light of the flame. Then, the prisoner has to be taken out of the cave into daylight, sometimes against his will. As described by Plato, this will often be a very hurtful process; knowledge can indeed be uncomfortable and deterrent to those who don’t want to see it. And because it is this way, sometimes people will even turn around and go back into darkness. This must be what Immanuel Kant meant when he was referring to enlightenment as overcoming cowardice and laziness (“sapere aude”). In addition, there is no shortcut to acquiring knowledge about the world than profound and radical educational efforts, as pointed out by the Prussian thinker Wilhelm von Humboldt. 

“No, however, if someone, using force, were to pull him (who had been freed from his chains) away from there and to drag him up the cave’s rough and steep ascent and not to let go of him until he had dragged him out into the light of the sun, would not the one who had been dragged like this feel, in the process, pain and rage?”

Being in the daylight, the former prisoner needs to get accustomed to the alien brightness. Once he is able to see though, he will see the things themselves. At first, these things might be the stars and the moon in the night sky since they are more pleasant to look at than the sun.

Eventually, the liberated (and emancipated) person will be able to stare into the sun itself, being able “to contemplate of what sort [she] is”. He will consider himself lucky to have found wisdom while condemning the other prisoners for remaining blind to the truth.

Now, the allegory is getting more political. Socrates is asking Glaucon:

“Do you think the one who had gotten out of the cave would still envy those within the cave and would want to compete with them who are esteemed and who have power?”

For the emancipated prisoner going back into the cave would become “filling his eyes with darkness” again. Furthermore, the rare sparkle of wisdom in his eyes would cause ridicule among the prisoners. And if he dared to drag them into the light as well, the moment his hands tried to get hold of them, they would kill him.

The quintessence in Plato’s simile is that truth may sometimes hurt the holders of outdated beliefs and views. More importantly, though, truth may not always prevail and may eventually be sacrificed (together with the protagonists that were trying to advance their ideas) on the altar of political power and ideological bigotry.