People seem confused about "politics"

Posted on August 1, 2007


For the purposes of Journalism Production Workshop:

I think ‘political’ and ‘politics’ in their broadest sense refer to any issue that provokes disagreement between two or more people.

Our lecturer gave a good example. To paraphrase: You may not care for much except surfing, so you might wonder what politics has to do with you…but if someone is pumping sewerage into a good break somewhere, you’re probably going to have an opinion about it. You, and a number of others want a clean beach, someone else (in fact everyone) needs to put the shit somewhere. Thats politics”

ITS NOT JUST ABOUT CANBERRA AND STEVE BRACKS… Yes, those things are Politics, but there’s so much more to politics than that

POLICY: a product of politics. Simply means an approach that people take regarding a certain need or issue. Council policy in your area might be to collect bins on Monday. Or a share house policy might be to do your dishes straight away. And care which bin things go into. University policy might be to not give extensions unless your leg is broken or someone dies. Or it might be slacker than that. Your own personal policy might be to never give money to beggars, to give money to some, or to all that come your way. Thats your decision, but its important to understand what arguments or assumptions your policy is based on, and how you would justify it to others.

The relative freedom that our country has actually comes with the obligation to engage with those who might disagree with the way you use your freedoms. In other words, this is a society where people argue for what they see as better or worse policy. To benefit from all that, you have to participate. Thats politics.

So we go all the way up from there to government policy, which might be to have bulk-billing doctors so that everyone can see a doctor. Some private health customers will ask why should they have to subsidise others through taxation. Left-wingers will reply that its fair to poorer people, it makes a healthy society, and thats a good reason in itself. A moderate opinion might be that we need to keep everyone reasonably healthy so that the economy will run at its best, helping the wealthy stay that way, and helping the less wealthy have a fighting chance of getting more. Thats politics.

In other words, every issue actually effects everyone in some way, however minor. The only wrong approach to any issue is to dismiss it without understanding it, or to assert simplistic ‘because I say so’ opinion when we know nothing about the real debate. The only wrong opinion is not to have opinions at all, or to have half-baked ones that you can’t be bothered defending.

So, as our lecturer pointed out, everyone is interested in something. Or a number of things even. Chances are, whatever the thing that interests you, whether its entertainment, sport, business, crafts, home improvement, or any number of hobbies or personal pursuits, there’s bound to be a political dimension somewhere. You just have to spot it by thinking about competing interests centering around a certain activity, place, or resource. An activity like driving – whether its commuting or illegal drag racing – is overflowing with politics. A place – like the northern territory or melbourne’s outer suburbs – are the location of many political dimensions.

Resources – water, trees, petrol, energy, uranium, cheap migrant labour or fresh produce just to name a few basic resources – are all incredibly political. And they’re probably going to remain political for the foreseeable future. They affect our lives, and we depend on them. Sometimes we compete for those limited resources (economics in short). So its bound to be political. And we’re bound to be asked, sooner or later, for an opinion. Or even a decision about what policies we should apply to them. Be prepared.

And don’t believe people that say “its all good just relax let us take care of it – don’t worry you won’t be one of the losers if you stick with us”.