The Partisan Mind (2)
It seemed like a sincere enough request. I was being asked by an MP from another party if I’d like to have a drink with other MPs just to be social. “Sure,” I responded, and that evening, following a late vote in the House, we retired to a favourite watering hole in Ottawa. Nine of us had gathered, from every party but one. I listened in fascination as we all complained about how impossible it was to accomplish any cross-party cooperation because our party positions were so rigid. Government and opposition MPs that evening bemoaned the decline of democracy but we were all stymied as to what to do about it. When it was suggested that we take a public stand in the House for more cooperation and less animosity, the response was muted.
This is an all-too-common occurrence in our modern political structure, and not only in Canada. The majority of elected representatives that I knew during my brief sojourn in politics were decent and hard working. They easily could have worked together in a company or a non-profit organization. Instead, all of us were stuck in a partisan world that brokered little innovation. We were as varied as a field full of daisies but, in the end, we had an essential likeness that spoke of timidity and the odd scent of barrenness.
This is ever the problem when partisanship has gone off the deep end. Individuals caught in its tentacles steer their course by the lesser light of their prejudices. Their convictions run by instinct and their thoughts run in an endless feedback loop. There are endless assertions but few enlightened arguments. Such individuals, wandering in their limited possibilities, always require some kind of prophet – a leader who can fill in the gap between their own emptiness and a hoped for ideal.
We have all experienced this in one form or another. Our very narrowness and lack of public spirit make those better angels of our respective natures all the more futile because they can only function in conformity. We achieve a kind of sure trust and yet its field of vision is so narrow. If we aren’t careful, such tendencies can create a kind of sterility of which we are not conscious – a kind of inner lack that robs us of the kind of comprehensive compassion required to efficiently manage the public space. And it perverts our conduct in a fashion that can sadly lose the public trust – a reality all of our political parties face at present.
These three blog posts are designed for the average person who is interested in politics but who can feel the temptations that limit public possibilities when private passions are followed. There are always those with rabid opinions who seek to divide citizens and those who desire to stay so neutral that they have little to offer in the way of actionable items in the public space. These blog posts aren’t for such voices.
Good people function in every political party and seek the best for their communities and the country. We aren’t guns for hire, nor do we have the wish to defile the public space. And yet powerful forces are at work in both politics and human nature that can draw us into swirling side eddies by offering us quicker paths to power and influence. It is in our own best interest, and those of our communities, to take the more complex route of deliberative dialogue and the willingness to compromise.
The reason for all this is simple: the white-hot nature of partisan politics makes it impossible to function on our public streets – the very thoroughfares of community that we all care about. The public rejects such displays outright.
Modern democracy doesn’t seek to carpet bomb nor demean someone of a different viewpoint. It requires a dedication to the method of inquiry, a certain intelligent detachment, and free exchange of views in respect. Such an attitude, without our intention or even awareness, is capable of creating a series of mini-revolutions that bring about a catalyst in our politics – a refinement that brings about change through process instead of brinksmanship through major revolution. Should the political order fail to provide for such possibilities, then it is only a matter of time until more violent solutions are pursued and the moment of opportunity for nuanced progress is lost.
Such possibilities must ever be in the mind of the well-meaning partisan. If we were honest, we would admit that it is almost impossible to maintain a blind loyalty to a political party if we always seek new research, ideas and renaissance. It is our enlightened minds that should claim our ultimate loyalty, not a group or an individual with a guidebook of simple equations and answers. The very fires that rage in our minds and seek change for the betterment of people must never be permitted to burn their own path through the public space, destroying decades of investment in their wake. Reasonable partisans are better than that and permit their hard-won convictions to be moderated by the well-meaning views of others.
As Chogyam Trungpa put it: “Personal enlightenment is the ego’s ultimate disappointment.” Our communities demand our better selves – the part of us that delights in shared accomplishments over private prejudices. Partisans have a key place in such a world, but only when they understand their respectful place in the broader community.