A rare venture into politics

21 september 2010 | In Moral Psychology parenting politics Psychology Self-indulgence | Comments?

I have little or no business pretending to be initiated about politics, but here is what seems to me to be at issue in this latest election of ours:

A party with a shady past (and present) characterized by their policy to restrict immigration just made it into the parliament, getting 5,7 % of the votes. Because we (probably, not all the votes are in yet) have a minority government, this party can influence what mixture of left- and right-wing decisions gets made (but not the budget, mind). The only way to get their own points across, however, is to strike some sort of deal with the other parties. And those parties probably won’t, or they will loose all credibility. On the issues on which it’s really important that this party doesn’t have a say, they face roughly 94,3% opposition. With a parenting-analogy: they may influence what pyjamas to wear, but not whether or not to go to bed.

The party in question seems to believe that a lot of people think like they do, and want what they want, but can’t, yet, bring them selves to vote for them. The campaigns that started around the time of the election (a bit to late) are mostly about this: stating in no uncertain terms that, no, we don’t think or want what they think and want. Emphatically so. It’s not just that their politics differ on certain issues from the policy we happen to habitually support. It’s not just that we disagree about the most effective route to some common political goal. We really, truly, disagree with their views. In particular, I think, we hold that the relevant factor is not what happens to our standard of living when immigrants arrive (some of us believe that this increases, when you count properly), but what happens to theirs.

Conservatives and Socialists in this country disagree to, of course. They disagree on how people (and, consequentially, the economy) basically work. The differences in social policies is the main expression of this. But the differences seem, here at least, to be one in degree, not in kind. We disagree a bit about about how motivation and incentive works, and how the unemployed, sick and needing should be helped. Most of these differences, then, seem to regard (psychological) facts and not, really, morals, and just barely that strange in-between-beast ideology. (While it does smack of morals when you say that someone should just ”snap out of it”, the underlying question of fact is whether they can). Few people hit the streets to tell the conservatives that, say, the schools should not start grading kids earlier, because that has little or destructive effect on performance and development, or that unemployed people shouldn’t be forced into demeaning jobs, but should be given the opportunity to develop worthwhile skills in pretty much their own time. One reason we don’t often hit the street with these messages and opinions is that we don’t know those things are really, unproblematically, true.

It’s often construed as a problem that our conservatives and our socialists agree on so much, but the thing is that they agree on things that usually seem right, and the things they disagree about are usually things that seems to be pretty undecided, fact-wise. With the new party, things are different. It’s not just that they seem morally and factually mistaken, but that they also seem to be ignorant. To borrow a term and an argument from Harry Frankfurt, their policy seems to be full of bullshit: It’s not just that it is based on falsehoods, it’s that it doesn’t care about what’s true.

One factor that doesn’t count (and probably shouldn’t) in the election is the degree to which we disagree with particular other parties. While 95% didn’t vote with the left-wing party, that’s not because 95% voted against them, but that 95% found a better alternative. This new party, however, 95% probably would vote against. If we voted with a ”Rate from best to worst” scale, the outcome of the swedish general election would probably look a lot less worrying.

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