The Political Animal
For those who came late, we at CRI are having Aniversarypalooza, so far the posts have been nothing less than outstanding. This post is a modest attempt to bring the average down.
To be honest, I was not sure about the direction to take in the post which will suit the occasion. Sure, I could try an intellectual overview of the conservatism, but to quote Oscar Wilde, I am not young enough to know everything, nor am I articulate enough to condense my views in a single coherent post.
That said, when I was told about the anniversary palooza one thing stuck with me, the article should be first person, that is it should bring out one’s perspective. This appealed to me as the reason one views the things the way one does clarifies the perspective.
*Before we proceed here is your obligatory jargon alert . You have been forewarned *
So, what drives our politics and informs our positions ? One usually answers the question intellectually, in form of abstract ideas and impersonal values.
Yet, to truly answer this we have to go beyond the certitude of abstract and grapple with whimsy of humanity.
I was introduced to the titular phrase, Political Animal, while reading politics (more on it later). At that time the phrase struck me as clever but nothing more. After that I kept encountering it on occasion, mostly from our resident Chicago boy.
However, it was not much later, that I grokked its true significance, and, if I may say so, true magnificence of this deceptively pithy phrase.
Much of our political discussions are based upon the implicit assumption that involvement in politics is a deliberate and reasoned act on our part. Our all political theorization work from that assumption.
Yet what if the assumption is not true. It is my contention that as the phrase suggests, politics is a very basic human instinct as opposed to an act of reason. Politics in various forms pervades human condition. Whether it is work place, or peers, or family or larger social gathering, consciously or otherwise, politics is always an influence.
This raises the question, why we humans have political instinct, surely if our elder cousins the adorable Chimpanzees can do without politics, who are we upstarts to say otherwise.
Many among us will answer that it is greed which causes the politics. That is true but still not helpful, for you see, greed is the first principle of nature. A short (but not very accurate) summary of the selfish gene could be, “we are all greedy”.
A better to our question is, “Politics confers evolutionary advantage”.
“Surely you must be joking!”, I hear you. Let me assure, I am not joking and further I am not Shirley either. To understand why it is so, let’s revisit the Chimpanzees. Now they may or may not be political, but they are certainly not adorable, in fact they are quite nasty. And they are not the exception. Nature as a matter of rule is less Lion King and (overwhelmingly) more Fight Club.
Why is this so? Well because scarcity exercises its tyranny over the living. To survive all the creatures must compete against each other. In this competition, violence decides the winner. And yet violence has its downsides for one, while violent struggles eliminate the rivals, it also leaves the winner weaker and therefore at disadvantage.
Politics is nature’s rudimentary solution to this (I am skipping few steps here). To paraphrase Freud, the first person to indulge in politics instead of violence was founder of civilization.
To summarize, “All politics is about control”.
This is far from the nobility ascribed to politics by Amar. It may sound disheartening but politics far from being intellectual exercise is more accurately described as a reflection of our baser instincts.
Yet there is more to politics than power which elevates it from a reflex of id, a mere dismal science so as to say. Simply put politics is also a manifestation of our social personae.
Human behaviour like that of any other social animal is influenced by two mutually contradictory forces. One is self interest, and the other is group interest. If an animal always acts in self interest it ends up harming the group, however acting otherwise puts itself at disadvantage.
These two forces are resolved by modification of individual’s self identity. Simply put, affinity to the larger group and identification with it become a part of individual’s self image. In Freudian terms it manifests as superego.
Thus our political instinct is also an evolutionary means to contribute to group utility.
Thus our aphorism can be modified to, “All politics is control, except when it is utilitarian “