Translated by me from the Norwegian article: ” The Paradox of the lifeboat – a crash course in politics” by Kent Andersen. Originally published on the 4th of April 2017 right here.
I love discussing politics – especially with people who I completely disagree with. As there is something deliciously civilised in fundamentally disagreeing about a topic, while still being respectful towards the other party. But after ten years in politics a problem surfaces: Way too many people don’t understand what politics clearly is, and what it is not. And that’s not just the voters. I often read journalists and politicians who reveal a very bad understanding of what politics really is. I will therefore offer a quick and useful course to all.
When important democratic actors lack political understanding, it becomes a sign of illness for the democracy, as there is an absence of a firm foundation upon which right decisions can be made to steer society in the right direction. Everything from voters to kings have to see the difference between politics and its absolute opposite, emotionalism – if not the entire society can wither without anyone noticing or understanding the warning signs. Politics is not exactly cosy. It can even be quite brutal stuff in brutal times, so let me say something about that.
What is politics?
Politics is synonymous with distributing assets and burdens in a society through the use of power. It is the business within a social system and field of ruling towards firmly established goals, where priorities have to be sorted, values/assets allocated and means chosen and used.
Keywords are therefore: Benefits and burdens – management and goals. Priorities, distribution of value and means within a social system and field. It is politics. The understanding of this determines whether or not our children will inherit a society at least as rich, harmonious, peaceful, safe and successful like the one we’ve enjoyed, something that is the entire point of the political management of a country: The goal is to leave behind something better to those who succeed us. How best to accomplish this, is disputed. That is why there exists different political parties, directions and ideologies.
What is the opposite of politics?
The definition of politics facilitates the identification of politic’s antithesis: Emotionalism. Emotionalism has enormous appeal to voters and politicians alike, because it is so easy to unite around, and appears to be so “nice” in the moment. But emotionalism does not encompass leaving an improved society to our successors. Emotionalism is about the creation of the best society in the moment. Regardless of what the cost may be, or how the future will pan out. It is a competition of virtue-signaling – without any consideration for coming generations. Politics is responsible. Emotionalism is irresponsible.
“We cannot pit weak groups against each other.”
This is a favoured phrase for the emotionalists or for people who know zero about politics. Any budget is precisely about “pitting weak groups against each other.” Politics is exclusively about comparing groups: to prioritize who will get, and who will lose. To put A up against B is the exact meaning of politics. So if anyone utters this ridiculous sentence, then point at them and yell “emotionalist!” As they are about to ruin everything for your children.
With emotionalism the resources are always infinite.
The budget can always be blown up by loans so that nothing has to be prioritized. “Everything is possible,” and nothing is impossible, and there are no negative consequences. Everything occurs in the vacuum of the moment, no burdens have to be distributed, and all future problems are marginalised, silenced or refuted. Emotionalism also lacks any standpoints besides good intentions: Everyone will receive, and nobody has to pay. Everything can grow into the heavens, nobody should feel left out, and nobody should lose. It is a reckless “free lunch,” that is tempting to fall for, as the dangers are not obvious: Emotionalism functions just as well as politics – in the short run. Emotionalism can actually erect a collection of magnificent public buildings in Bjørvika to billions of Norwegian kroners, in a capital that is broke, where tax levels are sinking, and loans decrease. Everything works out quite well….until the bill arrives.
Emotionalism works – short-term.
Emotionalism is incredibly tempting to politicians who are elected for short stints. It works, and creates more friends than enemies. Emotionalism purchases votes in exchange for cash. But the price is high, as emotionalism is a credit card: Success always happens at the expense of the future.
Ruling through emotionalism means that nobody knows where they are heading, or where they will end up.
Ruling through politics means that everybody knows where they are heading, and where they will end up.
Politics means keeping a clear, steady course, and communicating it: “We are going there, and not there.” It means a common understanding of where the end station is. (Without everyone necessarily agreeing on it – politics has nothing to do with consensus, if that was the case it would be lethally boring). Greats like Gamal Atatürk, Margaret Thatcher and our own Einar Gerhardsen, are in a class of their own, since they engaged in society building with a long-term vision, with clearly defined goals, plans and means. (Many hated them, but so what?) It was easy for the voters to understand what their society was to become. Emotionalism on the other hand, has no end goal, no plans for how to succeed, and no empirical success data to show to. The emotionalists promise everything to everybody, and promise that everything will improve as long as they can keep going a little bit longer. But they are lying. Coming generations will pay the price, and they will hate it.
It is not politics if:
- You don’t lead after clear plans towards a defined alternative, but rather satisfy everybody in the moment.
- You lack clear, quantifiable goals for the future which tells you what the end result should be.
- You lack clear priorities. If one political sector is to be the focus, then others will lose focus and support.
- Assets/valuables are allocated, and it is obvious who will benefit, but unclear who will carry the burden.
- The means are hidden or diffuse.
- There is more consideration for activist groups than the silent majority and coming generations.
- The politics take place outside the voter’s social system, territory or sphere of interest.
There are therefore many criteria that have to be fulfilled in order for something to qualify as politics. If we look at the Norwegian leadership today, we can see that within several of our sectors the criteria are being met – whether it is the fishing industry, the public school system, or common transport. The only matter that stands out like a sore thumb, is Norway’s immigration policy — it is not only Norway, but also Sweden and the whole of Europe. In this area the checklist display big and systematic deficiencies:
The emotionalism that steers immigration:
- Immigration is “impossible to control due to international laws and conventions, ” and is therefore not really managed. There are no systems or policies that ensures knowledge of what next year will bring.
- Immigration politics have no clear goal and no clearly defined outcome that can be evaluated.
- There are no clear priorities, besides the fact that the funds are infinite regardless of the cost – in contrast to for example, social help for the elderly, where there is always a lack of funds.
- Assets are distributed without ever revealing who carries the burden: Welfare for the elderly, welfare in general, roads, school, police and the military are typical sectors who see their funds decreased, but the context is often hidden and badly communicated.
- Activists wield enormous power, while the majority is marginalised.
- Immigration is accomplished outside the nation’s social system, territories and spheres of interests. It does not benefit Norway or its inhabitants, but benefits other countries and other nations’ citizens.
Politics is cynical in relation to what is needed.
Sadly politics come across as pretty “mean” in comparison to emotionalism. Politics is about conserving the voter’s own interests both today and in the future, and it is therefore “egotistical” over other countries and people. (But they have their own politicians, so why do they want ours?) Real politics can undoubtedly be perceived as cynical and brutal, because it encompasses a bone-hard knowledge of reality:
Resources are seen as limited and the budget absolute: If someone receives, there will always be someone who loses. When you walk in direction A, you remove yourself from direction B. The emotionalists always attempt to conceal such consequences, therefore there exists a good basic rule: Real politicians will always gather more opponents and critics that the emotionalists. Politicians become controversial, but look way better in posterity and historically when the easy emotionalism has been forgotten.
An illustration of how politics work: The story of lifeboat 4.
When (the for the occasion) fictional passenger ship “Politikos” tipped over and sunk in the North-Atlantic they failed to deploy all their lifeboats, and nearly 500 people jumped into the ocean. The few lifeboats that were actually deployed were not fully loaded, and it was therefore instantly initiated to rescue people from the ice-cold water.
Aboard lifeboat 4 the sailor….let us call him Winston Roosevelt, was given command of the freezing horrified passengers. He took control, and commanded immediately with an authoritarian voice:
– This lifeboat takes 50 people. Now we have to do everything to save people!
After a while there were 40 people aboard and the lifeboat was heavy loaded. Nobody knew how many days it would take for the rescue team to appear. The rations were limited, the future uncertain, but despite this Winston was crystal clear:
– There are more survivors! Row over there! We have to do everything to save people!
A cluster of 8 people were picked up. There was barely space for them. There were still too many people struggling in the ocean but Winston was uncompromising:
– There are 4 more! We have to do everything to save people!
They rowed over, and carefully hauled the four aboard, so that the boat was dangerously overloaded. But it did not help much. Eight people were laying ten meters away from them and were screaming for help in their utter desperation. Then Winston commanded:
– Row away!
Everyone aboard protested with tears and anger. They yelled:
– You said we had to do everything to save people! Winston gazed over the cramped lifeboat, and said sorrowfully but steadfast:
– That’s what we’ve done. Now we sadly have to get political.
Lifeboat 4 was the only one still afloat when the rescue team arrived.
Emotionalism can clearly be seen in a political environment where the photo of a drowned kid washed up on a beach dictates consensus rather than the collection of empirical data. This mentality could also be observed when Norway’s former leadership constantly declared that “Norway was not at war” despite deploying our soldiers to contribute to NATO’s military operations.