Wishful thinking in politics

Dette er en post om politisk (u)kultur. Hvis du er nordmann og bare lurer på hvilket norsk parti jeg ville foreslått å stemme på, kan du lese litt om det her.

Most people who get into politics, do it with some illusion that, if we just do this and that thing, everything will be great and everyone will be happy. (That’s pretty much unavoidable in a world where people choose for themselves whether to get into politics. If you don’t have illusions, then you typically either won’t want to be a politician, or you’ll be a grey, boring politician that nobody else wants to vote for.) Then the biggest difference between politicians and other dreamers, is that any wishful thinking on their part tends to also become everyone else’s problem at some point. This is one reason I’ve often been curious about what exactly makes politicians believe the things they do. I’ve sometimes wished I had the opportunity to just ask a range of politicians some hard questions about their beliefs. But for that to be really useful, I would probably have to do it in a particular way.

One approach which could be interesting, is the Socratic method. A simple explanation of what that is, is that it’s a little bit like repeatedly asking “why” (like a curious child), until the interlocutor (person you’re talking with) starts answering with self-contradictions, illogical statements, things that are demonstrably false, or things that don’t really answer the question at all (“ignoratio elenchi”). According to legend, Socrates used this method to prove that none of the politicians and other experts of his time had any clue what they were doing. This made him wildly unpopular among the elite, causing them to accuse him of “corrupting the youth”, and sentence him to death. But his method is timeless, and would probably be just as effective in exposing bullshit today as it was back then. (Perhaps even more so, since “ignoratio elenchi” is very popular these days.)

There are of course also other approaches, some perhaps more suitable for the age of short attention spans than others. In any case, I’ve never really had the opportunity to try something like that, I’ve had to try to satisfy my curiosity in other ways. Besides, it hasn’t been that important, because despite such illusions, democracy often works anyway. At least when all the various illusions are in balance, and none can get away with completely disregarding reality.

In recent years, though, it has become ever more clear that there’s a real problem here. For example, given the introduction of social media, with their algorithms and easy spread of non-fact-checked news, more and more people are actually able to get away with completely disregarding reality, ad hominem attacks, inflammatory language, etc. Furthermore, most ideologies are rooted in old ideas, and are not sufficiently balanced out by new ones. And worst of all, now there’s a lot more at stake than usual — these days, our choices are not only about what the future of humanity is going to look like, but also whether we’re going to have a future at all. Disregarding that reality is as damaging as it could possibly get.

Wishful thinking in politics has thus become a real and mortal danger for us all. And I wish there was more I could do about it, but it looks like all I can suggest right now, is vote for whichever party is most willing to do big changes. Even if they’re not terribly good at it, it’s still far better than not being willing to do what it takes. And at least in Norway, I believe that party to be the Green Party (MDG). (Norwegians can read more about my reasoning here.)