Wednesday, 2 May 2018

"What does one do in politics if one has discarded the whole realm of ideas? One fights men." [Repost, with only the names changed]


The #DirtyPolitics saga has begun again, the scotching of rumours by the Police Commissioner this morning serving only to magnify their spread.

But as one twitterer asked: the government has numerous policy failures already. Why not go after those instead of the Prime Minister's partner? Perhaps, I answered (and as I've suggested before), because the policies of this government and the last are so similar, and their loudest critics have so little in the way of ideas, they have little else left to go after.

So, because all that's changed since is a change of the people in government, here's a repost from 2014 with only a few names and tenses changed: The #1 reason for #DirtyPolitics: The Intellectual Aridity of the Centre-Right.

Q: What's the real story here?
The real story here is ideology – or, to be precise, the lack of one.
If there is something that linked Jason Ede, Cactus Kate, Cameron Slater, Carrick Graham and all the others exposed in those emails stolen by Nicky Hager, it was the idea that ideas don’t matter. The same is now true with those spreading baseless political rumours: for them, politics is not about ideas; it is about people.  Our own versus theirs. Ideas don’t matter because, very simply, they don't have any.  
It’s not a battle for ideas, but a battle for scalps. They don’t attack the ideas of their opponents, they attack their opponents' character -- or partners. Thus they are led not to attacking, say, outrages against individual rights committed right out in the open, but to looking for dirt, however risible, that may be found somewhere in the shadows. The triviality of so many of the rumours reveals the level of the horizons of these folk trying to make the world safe for something they call the “centre-right.”
Part of the reason is that there is so little ideologically that divides the so-called “centre-left” and “centre-right” – certainly not at the last election, where either the two major parties as easily signed up to their opponents’ policies as their own, and when the ruling party has done precisely nothing in six years to overturn the flagship policies previously implemented by its opponents.
So when there is no battle of ideologies, all that's left is a battle of attack dogs. Oblivious to the process by which people form ideas, the dogs instead attack individual's scalps – ignoring that such attacks have no power except with those who already share their intellectually barren worldview.
If there is anything at all that links these people to Nixon and his White House Plumbers, it is this disinterest in ideas, and the consequent obsession with dirty tricks. 
Both the President and all the President’s Men who fell with him were ideologically vacant – guided not by ideas but by range of the moment reactions. This was a President who called for polls to decide whether or not to bomb Haiphong harbour, and then waited for the results while his minions worked to skew those very polls. A President whose chief domestic adviser confessed at the Watergate hearings that he should never be considered an “ideas man.” Whose adviser’s lieutenant, John Haldeman, “looked upon himself not as an 'issues' man but as a technician and organiser." 
For what use would ‘issues’ or ideas be to such people? For them, politics wasn’t a battle of ideas at all: it was a battle of warring political tribes. 
Ayn Rand explained these people and these other entities some years ago 
    As a rule, it is an accident whether the smart young intellectual wheeler-dealers .. turn to the Left or to the Right [as they enter politics]… 
It is not a matter of political principles. What principles? Pragmatism has taught them that there are no such things.
But the big dilemma for all the pragmatists of the Right, is: what are they to fight and by what means, if principles are inoperative? Politics is a field in which one deals with ideas and it requires the ability to argue, to discuss, to persuade. 
What does one do in politics if one has discarded the whole realm of ideas? One fights men. 
"One fights men." Just as Team Key’s bloggers did then, and Team Bridges's rumour-mongers do now -- just as Nixon’s young pragmatists did who bungled the burglary that exposed them all. All of them were all too happy to sign up to such a battle. 
Such ‘technicians’ [observed Ayn Rand] would know that one is supposed to fight, at election time. What would be a pragmatist's idea of a fight? Ideas—he has been taught—are impractical, it is only immediate events that count; what is true today, may not be true tomorrow; rigid values are childish, cynical ‘flexibility is mature. People—he has concluded—don't think; people are not interested in ideas, only in scandal, they do not care about the good, only about some sensational exposé of somebody's evil.  
“Thus the younger, more impatient pragmatists would come to believe that bugging, spying, burglary, in pursuit of somebody's scandalous personal secrets, are more effective than years of speechmaking about ‘issues.’ Pragmatism is a philosophy of action, of the ‘now. The mentality of the activists of the Left, becomes, on the Right, the mentality of the Watergate conspirators.”
And of today's rumour-mongers. For them, politics isn’t a battle of ideas; it is a battle of warring political tribes.
And tribalism, as an idea, is busted in every realm except this most odious. 
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