Saturday, July 14, 2012

Politics is a Continuation of War By Other Means

I have always detested the term "happy warrior". The only proper context for that term is when a writer is describing a politician, similar to how you never see things like "gaffe" and "x blasts/slams y" outside political journalism. It's an evolution of the American lexicon which is emblematic of a rotten political culture.

There is no such thing as a happy warrior. People who go out and fight wars do not take joy or feel happy in killing another person. Even those who are addicted to the adrenaline caused by combat are not happy about going to war. Addicts are never happy about the fact that they are addicts.

The primary reason why combat infantry reenlist in an active war zone is to protect their comrades-in-arms who must stay on the battlefield. A soldier will cover himself on a grenade not because he's suicidal, but because the lives of his squad are worth more than his own. You will never see a soldier throw himself on an explosive if there's nobody in the room but him.

In other words, a warrior's motive is driven by a sense of duty to something greater than himself. And doing your duty should never make you happy.

Now, the fusion of military terms into politics has a long history. Campaigns used to be used strictly in the military sense. Now we have political campaigns. Political operatives can be "tenacious" and "combative". You need to have your people, your loyal "foot soldiers", "on the ground" and "in the trenches" to "mobilize" voters. The result of a political election is referred to as a victory, originally a term describing the success of a (military) campaign.

Clausewitz had it wrong. In modern times, politics is the continuation of war by other means, not the other way around. The intense polarization of the electorate reflects a growing problem in our country, and it's exacerbated by the increasingly militarized (see how easy it is?) political campaign.

The problem isn't what you think it is. Political incivility hasn't occurred because this generation is fundamentally more boorish than previous ones. Nor has it occurred because it's the other party's fault for being arrogant, close minded, and stupid. The problem is that everything now revolves around the American government, therefore the consequences of elections that determine who ultimately pulls the levers of power within American government are greater than ever before.

When two reasonable people disagree on the issue, they acknowledge their differences and go about their separate lives. This is no longer possible because of how intrusive the government can be in your personal life. If I support lower taxes and my friend supports higher taxes and we both vote in an election that will determine whether taxes will be lower or higher, I can't simply agree to disagree. The same goes for my friend. He wants higher taxes, but he can't simply walk away if I want lower taxes.

The issue of taxation is a fundamental component of government. And when the government requires so much money to keep operational, political differences over how much taxes people should pay become irreconcilable. You can't walk away from the issue anymore. A disagreement that my friend and I could ignore becomes impossible to ignore.

The issues that engender the most passionate response from voters today have a huge impact over people's lives. Drug laws limit what a person can and can't put in their body. Abortion laws limit what a female can and can't do to her body (and possibly to a soon-to-be human within her body). Tax laws limit how much a person can keep of their own money. Regulations limit what a business can or can't do with their own assets and so on and so forth.

Government, at all levels of the United States, now comprise about 40% of the entire economy. The Federal government is 25%. A single entity that large becomes impossible to ignore. And the natural conclusion that citizens make is that they have to chain the beast with their own ideologies and beliefs, lest someone chains it with something else.

That's when politics becomes a war. Because no single person can move the needle on their own. That means they have to forge alliances, make compromises, and then once all the internal conflict is squared away, array all of their power and then use that power to crush their opposition. When that happens, the other side can't walk away. They have to do the same and hope that the next time they meet, their side is more powerful.

 This is not how the government should operate. If 50%+1 of the country wants something to happen and 50%-1 of the country doesn't, the 50%+1 shouldn't get their way. It should be a stalemate according to a philosophy that 100% (or, more realistically, 95%+) of the country can agree on.

That philosophy is freedom. And I think that's what our society should base government policy on. If the country is more or less evenly divided on an issue, err on the side of freedom. If that issue seeks to limit somebody's freedom, don't let it happen unless a vast majority of the country agrees that it needs to happen.

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