Friday, 12 June 2015

Why you might well be more political than you think

I often see comments on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page saying things like "I'm not really political" or "I don't know much about politics". In this article I'm going to write a little bit about what politics is and isn't about, political misinformation, the role of bloviating self-appointed political experts and most importantly, why you might well be more political than you think.

This article is principally aimed at people who don't think of themselves as being very political, but if you already think of yourself as a political person, you might find this article interesting nonetheless, so don't feel put off.

What politics is

Politics is a perspective, a way of thinking about things, a prism through which we view the world. There are countless different political perspectives, mine is a left-libertarian one because I believe in social justice and freedom, other people have a range of very different political perspectives. We all have a political perspective, it's just that some people have more well defined perspectives than others.

Every time we ever think about the political consequences of anything, we're engaging in politics. If you go to a shop to buy an item of clothing but find yourself wondering whether it was made by a child in a sweatshop because it is so cheap, you're using your political perspective. Every time you fill your car with petrol you're engaging with politics (think of the wars in the middle east fought over access to oil). Every time you decide whether or not to recycle something, you're making a political decision (albeit one that few people are ever likely to notice). 
In fact, pretty much every time you experience anything at all, it's possible to consider the political ramifications.

The political establishment would prefer us to believe that politics isn't a perspective, but that it's a concrete thing, of which they are the main manifestation. It suits their interests that we think this way and believe that voting in elections is the main way by which we engage in politics. Because if we think about politics like this then it becomes very easy to accept the tribalistic political allegiances that come with the party political system.

Politics isn't something that is done by politicians, it is something that is done by all of us. The problem is that so many people have become so hopelessly disengaged from Westminster politics that they mistake their rejection of the corruption riddled and apathy inducing political systems we suffer with a rejection of politics in general.

Political propaganda

One of the most offputting things about politics is the fact that we are surrounded by political propaganda. The mainstream media is utterly dominated by a few highly partisan corporations (the Murdoch empire and the Daily Mail group are by far the biggest purveyors of political propaganda).

The mainstream media is full of over-simplistic propaganda designed to convince people to vote in the ways that the press barons would like them to. It's appalling that foreign billionaire press barons are allowed to spread extremely biased political propaganda, and even explicitly tell people how to vote.

In my view, the whole idea of democracy is a sham if the public are not properly informed. How is it even possible to make an informed political decision when completely surrounded by biased and misleading political propaganda? Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the Spanish anti-austerity, anti-corruption party Podemos put it like this: "If the right to information is an actual right, then we can't allow all of the big media groups in this country to be controlled by a few multi-millionaires".

The fact that a few staggeringly wealthy press barons control such a large chunk of our media has led to a situation where bizarrely misleading political propaganda is taken as fact by millions of people, and goes completely unchallenged by other, supposedly neutral news organisations like the BBC.

Noam Chomsky once said that "the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum", which is a pretty accurate description of the mainstream media in the UK.

"The recovery"

To put the problem of political propaganda into perspective, just think about how often you've heard the word "recovery" repeated in news broadcasts over the last few years.

The fact that Tory assertions about "the recovery" go unchallenged, and news reporters keep endlessly repeating the word would make most people believe that there has been a recovery, but what people don't realise is that GDP per capita (the amount of economic activity per person in the UK) is still significantly below pre-crisis levels.

The stagnation of GDP per capita isn't the only glaring flaw in the recovery narrative either. There's the fact that the UK balance of trade is in an appalling mess, productivity of the UK workforce has been in a prolonged decline, British workers have suffered the longest sustained decline in wages since records began, the national debt is still growing rapidly (despite George Osborne's promises back in 2010 that the deficit would have been eliminated by now), and the amount of household debt has risen well above the pre-crisis level.

What kind of recovery results in almost everyone getting poorer apart from the tiny super-rich minority, causes productivity and wages to fall, sees the biggest trade deficits on record and is built on the back of rapidly inflating bubbles of household and government debt?

The fact is that there has been no recovery for most people, yet the Tories and their chums in the right-wing press are confident that the more often they repeat the lie that the economy is doing really well, the more people will come to accept it as the truth.

Self-appointed experts

Another offputting thing about politics is the abundance of self-appointed experts who tend to shout down anyone who tries to say anything that falls outside of the narrow spectrum of orthodox political debate.

If you haven't rote learned your political opinions from the mainstream media, it is more than likely that people who have are going to try to shout you down because they can't tolerate hearing anything that contradicts the narrow political worldview they've been programmed with.

It is often the case that people like this are hopelessly misinformed about political issues, and when you scratch the surface they've actually got no facts, evidence and analysis to back up what they say. They're often the kinds of people who are easily swayed by empty rhetoric and emotive arguments.

If you know anyone who fits the description of bloviating self-appointed expert, it's always a good idea to arm yourself with a few choice facts and statistics if you think they're going to try to shout you down for daring to think outside the narrow spectrum of political debate that they are familiar with.

"I don't read the papers"

I was speaking to someone the other day who said that they're not very political because they don't read the papers or watch the TV.

I told them that in consideration of the fact that the mainstream media is so full of desperately misleading political propaganda, they're actually in a much better position to understand politics than someone who has been rote learning their opinions from the mainstream press. This is because it is much easier to use facts and logic to get through to someone who has not been heavily indoctrinated, than it is to convince someone who has been indoctrinated that they have been fooled.

Why you may well be more political than you think

The essence of political awareness isn't learning lots of political opinions, it's actually about understanding the importance of reading between the lines.

If you're the kind of person who, when confronted with political information, tends to think "who is telling me this?", "why are they telling me this?", "what evidence is this based on?" then you're actually already far more politically aware than the kind of person who knows a lot about politics but hasn't subjected what they've learned to this kind of analysis.*

Political awareness isn't measured by how much you know, it's measured by how you have come to know what you do.

Even if you don't know that much about politics at all, I'd maintain that you're probably more politically aware than someone who has been rote learning their political opinions from the mainstream media, because it's very much harder for someone to take an analytic approach to politics if they're already heavily indoctrinated in the orthodox way of thinking, than for someone who knows less about politics to begin learning about political issues from an analytic perspective.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.

* = You should be asking these kinds of questions about my work too you know!

Austerity is a con
What is ... the difference between a debt and a deficit?
Why I don't speak for the collective left
George Osborne has created more debt than every Labour government in history combined
Pablo Iglesias and the appeal of Podemos
The Tory ideological mission
How the Lib-Dems were just as compassionless as the Tories
Margaret Thatcher's toxic neoliberal legacies


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