Monday, November 21, 2005

Politics and Commercial Thinking

The "Feminists To The Rescue" post that follows this one has an interesting comments thread. One comment notes that its writer is neither a feminist nor an anti-feminist. I found this very confusing because I cant see how this is possible if we apply the political definition of feminism here: equality of opportunity and equal esteem of the traditionally male and female spheres of activity. One either believes in the desirability of this kind of equality or one does not. So how does one hover at the edge of doing neither? Or is this one of those angels-and-the-head-of-a-pin questions?

I believe that this statement reflects the successful inculcation of a commercial way of thinking in most citizens of this country. We look at practically every idea or principle as if it was a new car or a new DVD or a new brand of wine, and we try to decide if the price is reasonable and the product attractive enough. If the price is too high or the product of shoddy quality we refuse the purchase. But this way of thinking doesn't work in politics.

Some years ago a friend and I were complaining about some political outcomes in the state. She said that she had not voted, so none of the deplorable events were her fault. I found this way of thinking shocking; she seemed to view political participation like it was, say, a shopping trip to buy a dress: if you don't find one you like you go home empty-handed.

The difference between politicians and dresses is pretty obvious: you get the politician whether you vote or not, and the very act of my friend not voting may have gotten the worst candidate in. Well, probably not, but the point is an important one: Political regimes are public goods or bads: you will be affected by them whether you vote or not. They are not like private goods and services which you can return to the store if they prove less than optimal.

Since I first encountered the commercial approach to political thinking I have spotted it many times. Sometimes I think that there are people in this country who would rather stay on a deserted island after a shipwreck and starve than to get on any ship that is less than a luxury liner, for this is how they seem to judge the political organizations which are trying to help their causes. It seems that these organizations shouldn't do just politics but they should also be entertaining and amusing and charge very little. Commercial thinking.