Saturday, February 14, 2009

My sister joked that the movie should have been called "Erection" instead

If there is anything that can make a hypocrite of me, it's school politics. To be sure, it is not the only thing for which this can be said, but it has every likelihood of being the most significant example. I am a political science major, and I think I might pursue a career in politics...but I don't think I've ever run for student government. I don't think I've even so much as managed a campaign (does that even happen in school elections outside of Family Channel sitcoms?). I firmly believe that someone who has been given the franchise has the highest moral obligation to exercise it with good judgement, and at every opportunity. I certainly have voted in school elections before, but I did not do so at Carleton University last year, and I haven't even looked into whatever is going on at Dalhousie this year, so I've maybe inadvertently missed them. I don't think I have cared about a school election ever since I figured out that in grade school they are no more than popularity contests. Even now that I can vote for student unions with real weight to throw around, I find myself caring less and less. To a certain extent, living off-campus these past two years certainly hasn't done much to impress upon me a feeling of connectedness to the schools I have attended, but this is beyond that. It could be the years of having “school spirit” forced down my throat finally caught up with me. Or maybe the sort of smug, self-satisfied people who run for student office just get on my nerves. Maybe I don't know enough about the issues at stake to care.

There's actually a movie that encapsulates rather well all the things I hate about student politics. Fittingly enough, it's called Election. Thing is, the film is also a satrical take on real-world politics, something that it could not be if the two were as unlike as I wish they were. It's funny because we recognize the personalities of those who have power, and those who seek it. That's about when the movie stops being funny, and I wonder if maybe politics is really the career for me, if these are the kind of people I would have to work with. It worries me that maybe I would skip jubilantly into the halls of power one day only to see Tracy Flicks instead of CJ Craigs. I worry that if there isn't some kind of wall between student politics and “real politics” that I am missing out, as it were, on a step in this career path of mine. I worry that my utter disdain for student elections might be a sign that I would be better off doing something else, that maybe I'm just not Machiavellian enough for this line of work. Even if that's not the case, and I get a job in the public service or whatever, what if it is more like Election than, say, The West Wing?

In the case of Canadian politics, of course, one does not expect so much a similarity to the politics of school as to the name-calling, hair-pulling, and bullying; to the day-to-day experience, if you will. I wonder if politicians here remember to cross their fingers when they make promises they don't intend to keep?

I don't know if I can rationalize my stance toward school politics. Sure, I might tell myself that it doesn't matter who I vote for, but that can be true at any level, especially the “real” ones. In the past I have told myself that if I could reform the system, if I could rewrite the rules, that I could start to care...maybe that's it. Maybe I don't care because I don't want to vote for anyone at all. Perhaps I want to make all the decisions myself. It's easy to say from the comfort of an armchair that I would prioritize the right answer over the popular answer, but then what use is the right answer if you've lost the power to apply it? And furthermore, is it the right answer that would compel me to have that power, or do I wish I had the power because I'm a control freak like that? And it dawns on me that it's just too simplistic to say “I want to be like Sam and Toby and CJ and Josh, or like Adama and Roslin; people who rule because – generally – they want what is best, what is right.”. In fact, it misses the point entirely. Making the right decision, implementing the correct policy – that's not what it's all about. The most a politician should be expected to do is present the best possible evidence as to why his or her answer is the best; the rest is up to the people. Liberty must include the freedom to make the wrong decision from time to time (although if bad choices hurt people this gets fuzzy). For that matter, thinking of decisions and policies in terms of simple “right” and “wrong”, “correct” and “misguided” is a gross understatement of the complexities involved. What does being “right” even mean, for that matter? If everyone was an act utilitarian, no politician or voter in all of human history could be considered “right”, unless anyone wants to argue that humans have ever made a decision leading the the absolute best of all possible outcomes. Even making that determination would require a level of knowledge about the universe more befitting a God than a mortal!

The nature of liberty, of rightness and wrongness, of unpredictability versus determinism; what bearing do these have on how much, or how little I care about school elections? You might well ask me that. I might well ask me that! I shall endeavor to explain what may be obscured by the writings of a mind prone to wandring. I think that my disdain for school politics is primarily fueled by a blanket assumption that I am somehow better than the kind of people who run for office at this level, and maybe at all levels. That assumption may even be at the root of my political aspirations. Somehow, I would do the right thing where these people fail. Somehow, I would not be corrupted by power, or stoop to empty rhetoric and populism. I realize that it is very hard to define what “right” means as regards decisions. Even if we were to apply the scientific method to policy, “right” is a moral qualifier. The best we could possibly do is to pursue by trial and error the most effective policy, but if and when we ever reached that point, would we not be daft to imagine a solution free of controversy and general moral outrage? Read what Freakonomics has to say about Roe v Wade, and you'll get a pretty good idea of what I mean.

As an idealist, and an ideologue it's always a little painful to accept that however much I want to believe that I am on the side of the righeous, I cannot be. It would have to mean living in a simpler world. A thing such as righeousness really only exists in a world of absolutes, and that's the kind of world I give up, being an Atheist. It would be nice if I could point to rules writ large in stone and proclaim for all to see that what I believe is a perfect match and therefore I am pretty much the best at morality and should therefore be king of everything, but no such luck.

So I guess what I am saying is that I should suck it up and cast an informed vote for some over-ambitious backstabbing weasel because I can't be better than they are.

Reality can be a bitch sometimes, you know?

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