With every minute politics get more and more theatrical: what started with huge election campaigns in the US some years back, has reached a stage in which political leaders around the world pose themselves like movie stars instead of focusing on urgent matters. Why is it that while political challenges constantly get bigger, politician seem to get dumber?
I guess I don’t have to explain what I mean with “getting more and more theatrical”. What I refer to has so many faces: the stupid election campaigns in the US, where two (or a few more) candidates tour the country like film stars in order to win supporters was only the beginning. The same thing can now be observed in many other countries. The whole discussion around the leadership in the ALP is another good example of how political leaders in this country here prefer to focus on themselves rather than on the political agenda and the many issues that would have to be addressed and solved. Many politicians are modern divas.
The whole thing gets a bit easier to digest, if one looks at the ones that follow this whole theatre: less and less people seem to have a deep understanding of politics as such. For them it’s easy to vote a “woman with red hair” that might represent progress and gender equity. For others it’s better to follow the one that lobbies with “stopping the boats” – a clear statement, who would want them anyway?
The truth, however, is that politics is more than just a show for some opinionated individuals that pretend to represent a highly diversified society based on a few bad-chosen paradigms.
This might be best explained when looking at the root of the word politics. “Politics” stems from the Greek word “polis”. On administrative level polis was the name for the Greek city-states that evolved around 800 BC. On political and intellectual level, polis stood for a system of political leadership made up by a few privileged, that were liberated from the burden of generating an existence and that, instead, were supported by society and given the privilege to think, talk and debate openly about issues of everyone’s concern. It is self-explaining that these people were the most remarkable and intelligent thinker the ancient Greeks could make out among themselves. They selected the ones they thought would likely be able to provide the best leadership and come up with the best solutions for their society and the cities they lived in.
That was more than two-thousand years ago. If we look at politics in the 21st century and ask ourselves what makes a politician today, then the answer is slightly different. Today, a politician must first of all fit into a well-defined scheme that is driven by visual appearance rather than by intellectual capacity (Hollywood made the first step, now everyone has to follow. What is not hip, doesn’t count). Second, politicians usually need a big group of supporters – a reason why entrepreneurs, directors of big companies and financial heavyweights have it significantly easier to be elected. Another helpful characteristic is loudly talking around hot topics and saying what the majority likes (e.g. “I stand for tax reduction, better health and age care…”).
Another feature that is quite different compared to the Greek polis are the issues politicians have to deal with nowadays. They are comparatively more complex than those two-thousand years ago. For example, while it is already difficult for climate experts to estimate the exact consequences of climate change , it gets extremely tricky to judge what consequences for the local labour market a certain climate change adaptation plan will have. The same might be true for a subsidy on fruits with the aim to reduce health costs, or some economic experiments to boost a suffering world economy.
Considering the complexity of such political decisions, wouldn’t it be logical, that similar to the ancient Greeks we only chose the best among us – those we believe might most likely be able to deal with the duties assigned and come up with good solutions to all the challenges confronted with?
To be a bit more bold: since hair color doesn’t really help, wouldn’t it make sense (or even be elemental) that political leaders need to prove their abilities before entering the political arena?
To me it seems strange that we all need to make tests and get a licence to drive a car, when at the same time no requirement is necessary to govern a country. We chose our leaders according to skin colour, hair colour, gender, age, religious and ethnic background etc., but never ask for proof of their abilities. We trust their words and the more they talk the more we believe.
Particularly the religious aspect deserves some additional thoughts: isn’t it a contradiction that while most modern states pretend to be secular, a big number of political parties still have a clear religious identity? Isn’t it scary when a political party is influenced by ideals that come out of books that were written thousands of years ago in a time and place that had absolutely nothing in common with our today’s lives?
An answer to the political dilemma is found in what Hannah Arendt, a remarkable political theorist, described as “thinking without a banister”. Once we free ourselves from our socio-cultural, ethnic and religious background, once we think freely and without bias, we will be able to see clear and to vote for the best option. It is then that we will find a leadership that seeks to find the best outcome for society instead of posing for their personal supporters.