I’m writing this blog-letter to one of your really old articles – Considering Politics you posted way back in 2006! I stumbled on that article a few years ago, bookmarked it, forgot about it, then re-read it, and started drafting a response about three years ago.
Some fascinating ideas are worth coming back to, especially these kind of idea starters that prompt us to look at things from a new perspective. I love your idea of meta signals/temperaments that cut across political movements. Your analysis makes sense and is possibly one of a few factors that driver voter participation and attitude towards politics.
I also think that there may be an overarching factor that affects all of those signals/temperaments. I have a theory that voter disinterest, increased amount of non-voters, and general disdain towards politicians and politics is because Western Liberal Democracy does such a good job of creating comfort and disinterest. Let’s call it Too Comfortable To Care.
We have systematically created more and more welfare (corporate, creative, social, income) programs than ever in our history. Government spends immense sums of taxation funds on attract private investment, provide grants to the arts and creatives, fund robust health and social welfare departments, and provide income replacement and pension programs when needed.
Government create these departments and organizations that go on to run themselves. Yes funding budgets are annual events that the politicians can make some actual decisions on, but no politician has the time, experience, or skill to deliver any of the programs they budget for. A politician may fund a hospital but has no authority to make medical or health decisions, instead Directors are hired who in turn hire waves of bureaucrats and experts to carry out the intended program.
Most of the big decisions have been made. Sure lots of little decisions still exist but for the most part politicians tweak what is already in place. Western liberalism is in a state of comfortable decline because there is not that much to strive for, at least from a materialism aspect.
So our voting behaviour mimics this. While there remains a significant population of non voters who are poor and disenfranchised, they are provided a minimal income so that large scale social unrest does not take place. Communist organizers knew that in implementing welfare states the motive to revolt would be undermined.
Want to make voters motivated? Then take away something comfortable that they feel entitled to or are threatened by. This appears to be validated by the highest U.S. voter turnout we witnessed for the 2020 Presidential election.
I don’t angst about voter engagement decline or cynicism. I see it simply as an outcome to affluence. Complacency settles in when things are comfortable. The reality is that politics is pretty uncomfortable stuff since it is mostly about conflict.
Politics is a form of social warfare. It is fundamentally about seizing power and using it to support the people or issues that are important to you. Democracy allows for this to play out through the election arena. It is ugly, nasty, and brutal but it is at least mostly non-violent. The fact is that many of us have become too comfortable to get dirty with politics, while I suspect that our ancestors just simply accepted this is how politics worked.
Perhaps my post is too cynical (I am after all part of the Rational group) but I think the theory is sound and can provide some explanation to the state of how things are. The Guardian temperament/signal types who make up the largest segment of the population are not going to get dirty unless they absolutely have to.
Many thanks Chris of 2006 for such an interesting post and pioneering the Republic of Bloggers.