Australian Politics…chapter 1

Parthenon from west

Parthenon from west (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.1  What is meant by calling the human being a ‘political animal’?

The ancient Greeks used the word Politics to mean something rather different to how the word is used today.  Polis means “of the city”, so Socrates reference to “man as a political animal” was about humans natural state being living in a city or state.

Today, some might say this is incorrect, given that humans are biologically built to live mainly in Hunter-Gatherer societies, and it is only in relatively recent times that we have grown to live in dense cities and urban masses.

Although in some ways, in ancient Greece, the saying was perhaps closer to the truth given that “cities” generally didn’t contain more than 300 or so people and very often were less than 100, while modern cities like Shanghai in China now has over 23 million inhabitants with 6,400 humans per square kilometer. (source)

At the end of the day, anything that describes human behaviour as being either essentially social and city based on individualistic, can only ever be general – given the diversity of human life and thought.

1.2  Must politics always involve conflict or power?

Politics in its simplest form, is the act of managing the state.  Politics involves many elements and both conflict and power are essential ingredients.  However the dynamic of the conflict and power change significantly dependent on the political regime in place.  For example, in a Dictatorship where perhaps the state is often run by military rule (like Egypt from the early 1900’s until the Arab Spring), conflict in the running of parliament is low, and conflict with the people is low until a revolution occurs as a result of low level and ongoing conflict between military forces and the public which builds public resentment slowly but inexorably over time.  In its place, the authority executes the full force of its military power on the people of its society, in order to maintain a state where there is no internal conflict to its own rule.

In a democracy however, the balance of conflict and power are different.  Democracy encourages conflict within its own ranks, between different schools of thought that make up the associations which form parties who represent the general public.  That low level conflict is what ensures the balance of power is kept in check, so that differing points of view have a voice and so that any ruling decisions are thoroughly tested before changes are implemented in society where they will affect the lives of those who choose to live in it.  In a democracy, the power struggle is focused between parties for the love of the people, not forced on the people (although with free press expressing personal view points like Murdoch owned media in Australia, some would argue this is not always the case!).  The power of the state through military force is focused on protection toward outside forces, not the oppression of the internal society.

But in all cases, there is conflict and power at play.

1.3  Is it reasonable to say that politics in some sense always involves the state?

Not always.  In more recent times, politics is used to describe the internal power plays, conflicts, relationships and governance within companies also.  However, if referring just to politics within the realm of the management of a country or nation made up of a collection of states, territories or provinces as is the case with the world today – then yes, the two are connected.  The “state” is what politics as a framework aims to provide protection and advancement for, the members of the state are its existing  citizens and the guests of the state are its tourists, refugees and immigrants – until otherwise officially accepted by the state.

English: One of the symbols of German Women's ...

1.4  How pervasive is “patriarchy” as an explanation of political power relations?

Patriarchy – the power of Fathers – and therefore, the power or rule of male thought, is how most modern Western societies were formed.

Firstly, its important to note that most anthropologists hold that there have been no known matriarchal societies in human history with the possible exception of some small societies from Burma and Native America.  Certainly there have been no major matriarchal civilisations.  Although Matrilineality (where descendant groups and potentially land, culture and other items are based on the mother line) are more prevalent including small society groups in Native America, China, Spain,  Africa and of course those of Jewish belief.  Many of these no longer exist.

What is also important to note is that most of the Western colonial world (USA, Australia, Canada) has been created on the back of expansion from the English, French, Dutch and Portugeuse.  None of these societies had a history of matriarchy nor matrilineal descent.  Given that each of these societies based their system of politics on their known political framework – they only had a patriarchal framework from which to take from!  Even today, while there is a separation of state and Monarchy, England still holds high regard for the family line, and Australia as England’s colonial outpost is not officially a republic and the Governor General as representative of the Queen of England must sign off on all major matters of state.

In democratic societies, the state involves citizens who are able to vote in or out members of parliament.   It was only just over 100 years ago that women were first allowed to even participate in that voting system (longer for countries other than Australia who was one of the first to provide women with that right as a part of the Feminist movement of the time).  And 100 or more years before that, women were under the complete rule of there Father in terms of matters of property ownership, life decisions and more.

So given the political system has existed for hundreds of years and was set up by men before women had any right to be a part of it, this suggests very strongly that patriarchy forms the basis of political power relations.

Australian Coat of Arms (adopted 1912)

Australian Coat of Arms (adopted 1912) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.5  Discuss the difference between rhetoric and democratic politics.

Officially rhetoric is used to describe the discussion of political affairs by ALL members of society – not just politicians.  But the reality is, it has been so often used to describe the empty words of politicians who make promises and never deliver – that the word has lost all power to describe anything else.  Most people think of rhetoric as a ONE WAY speech rather than a discussion.

Discussion, on the other hand, is the heart of democracy.  Without discussing, arguing, engaging and fully testing the idea through debate, it is unlikely that same idea, and any related rulings from that idea, will be able to be accepted by people of different schools of thought.

However, discussion shouldn’t be the ONLY important factor.  Too often (as can be seen in the daily caucus at Parliament in Australia), there is too much talk and debate about things irrelevant to the needs of the people.  We are not a society that lives without access to information.  We live in an amazing age where we can gauge public feedback of thousands within in hours or seconds on social media, where contacting experts from all fields takes a few touches of a button, where scientific research is readily and easily available to all.  So I would argue that when pure rhetoric (without evidence from the people that politicians represent, a range of experts within those people, and research data) takes precedence over informed rhetoric, we enter a dangerous area of non-productive politics which is in fact self serving and undemocratic in its very nature. So often we see Indigenous Affairs ministers who have never spoken to an aboriginal elder or even lived in an Aboriginal community, or Health ministers who have never been doctors or nurses.  If these people are to represent these areas of society and do not have a background in it, then surely they must commit themselves to a learning process through community involvement, traditional study, expert panels, research and more.

1.6  What implications are there for the study of democracy in postmodern analysis?

Post-modernism really just means the following: there is no ONE RIGHT WAY to govern a society.  The idea that all truths can be questioned: including democracy.  Interestingly, never more has this been tested than through the rampant desire of the US to force its concept of democracy on the Middle East.  Or closer to home, the Australian Government’s need to replace the Australian Aboriginal Consensus based decision making system which also placed most power in the hands of elders (both men and women).  And in BOTH cases, the form of democractic rule forced on those societies seems to have made those made situations worse, rather than better.

Societies are very complex, they have taken in many cases, either hundreds or sometimes thousands or tens of thousands of years in their formation: this is particularly the case for people in the Middle East and Australian Aboriginals.  Humans are highly agile and malleable when brought up in a particular way from birth – however fast change forced on an entire society mid-cycle (mid generation) will often end in high levels of conflict or a situation where the state applies a level of power that oppresses the other society into submission.  That doesn’t sound like a democracy to me…

Post modernism in its purest form is academic bullshit.  It’s the realm of masters students and PhD’s who have nothing better to do with their time than deconstruct sentences.  But postmodernism that is grounded in real life respect for cultural, religious, geographical and historical differences is, I think, I highly valid and important perspective.  It is a perspective that allows governments to really think about the potential outcomes their actions may have.  It should never be used as a way to justify the continued existence of oppressive types of government, BUT it should look to accept circumstances where freeing people from such a situation without a valid and COMMUNITY OWNED & VETTED alternative has proven to turn the society into a highly unstable one.    Laughably, this is the definition of anarchy!  It takes time for people to change.  It took hundreds of years for the Western world to create its form of democracy.  Equality for all is a very noble goal, but the seeds of democracy must be sown over time and within the hearts of the people.  Unfortunately, Western governments rule for 3-5 years and time is not something they have a lot of.  So they look to create fast change and in the process, can cause great damage.

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