Politics Part 6: The Missing Meta in November 8

We continue from Politics Part 5; House Select January 6 Committee.

Political science is, academically, a broad, inclusive subject. The media have reduced it to the tactical form, which notably lacks self-awareness. We need a term that, encompassing the tactical, engages the greater framework implied by “meta.”

Definition of meta, Merriam Webster (3) — “usually used with the name of a discipline to designate a new but related discipline designed to deal critically with the original one.”

Tactical politics is about the parameters of the moment, with the assumption that the form of government is  stable. Meta-politics is about the big picture: Why things are the way they are, and how they might change, in scope completely off the tactical radar. It is a neglected subject, which is why we start by giving it a name. It’s urgent — American democracy is in peril.

Social media is a significant cause, amplifying extremist viewpoints and misinformation that would otherwise be filtered. In some societies,  gatekeepers are elders, or”wise  men”, who have over their long lives seen more strife and suffering than impetuous youth can even imagine. In other societies, elders are the oppressors, challenged by comparatively enlightened youth. Why one-or-the-other prevails or flips is a meta question, vaguely addressed by Pareto’s “circulation of the elites.”

There is more than this to the American crisis. Our electoral systems are mostly majoritarian – plurality. In some other democracies, proportional representation facilitates formation of more than two parties, by which the political landscape would  presumably be fluidly remodeled. In the U.S., the closest thing to a viable third party was the Bull Moose Party of 1912-20, which did not outlast Theodore Roosevelt.

In the past, majoritarian – plurality machinery gained flexibility with across-the-aisle collaboration. Sadly, this has been supplanted by a majoritarian ethos, the “dictatorship” of the majority. While proportional representation would seem to provide an institutionalization of this, the records of other nations shows otherwise. Nothing replaces commonality of interest.

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative’s Morals? Can’t afford them quotes Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion:

Her no-good wastrel father, Mr. Doolittle, objects to Henry Higgins’ adoption of his daughter, and demands appropriate compensation. Higgins, and his friend Pickering, are shocked, “Do you mean to say, you callous rascal, that you would sell your daughter for 50 pounds?…Have you no morals, man?” “Can’t afford them, Governor,” Doolittle replies, “Neither could you if you was as poor as me.”

To paraphrase, an individual buys the morals he can afford. The cost of purchase is partly measured in bucks; the rest in peer pressure. The cost of moral maintenance is personal sacrifice, and benefits perceived as distant and indirect.

This is meta-political calculus relevant to the two parties now. Can you analyze  without partisan reference? Give it a try.

To be continued shortly.