5 reasons being right doesn’t matter in politics

I think I've now heard critique of the 'We', the 'Are', the 'The' and the '99%' bits of this slogan. Maybe those critics were right...

One reason for the fractiousness of Britain’s extra-parliamentary left (slightly redundant hyphenated word there but some people are still confused enough to think Labour is a left party so it needs to be said) and presumably the left in most places in the world is, ironically, that many people are obsessed with being RIGHT.

This is not a problem that I imagine afflicts, say, David Cameron or Rupert Murdoch. They couldn’t give a toss who is right, they just want to achieve certain things and they’re usually pretty good at it. Now I don’t want to argue that lefties should stop trying to be right in order to compete with our Bastards In Chiefs, but I think there are other reasons to not focus so strongly on being right.

1. But really, how far does it get you? Jesus was right and look what happened to him. Being right doesn’t win you any friends, or any battles, or any resources. It won’t keep you warm at night, or if it does only from the strength of the moral glow within you. For sure it won’t keep anyone else warm at night and if you care about the poor getting heating that should matter.

2. Being right is good for our egos but our egos won’t take us far. You can be right but boring, right but self-denying, right but self-righteous, right but too angry, right but inarticulate, or right but alone. What matters in each of those combinations is not the ‘right’ bit I’m afraid. The moral glow isn’t too attractive and alone you are powerless. It’s not that you shouldn’t make your arguments, but if being right makes you push away potential allies it probably isn’t all its cracked up to be.

3. It’s very difficult to escape the mental structures of Christian traditions. People’s conviction of ‘rightness’ often combines the worst aspects of religion and individualism. It relies on both absolute belief and on you self-definining yourself as different from others. The result is that many people end up belonging to a cult with one member. Even when the cult is a bit bigger than that, it becomes very difficult in our individualistic age for it to grow into a full scale proper religion, even if you consider such a thing desirable.

4. You probably don’t really believe what you do on the basis of evidence. Political ‘truths’ sometimes have a basis in the real world but the important ones establish themselves socially. They become more significant not according to their ‘rightness’ but according to how many people share them and how they share them. Most people participate in such ‘movements’ not on the basis of evidence but because it ‘feels’ right – and if you had any honesty you’d know that’s the real reason you do too.

5. All that really matters in politics is getting people to act together. Contrary to what many people think this does not mean getting them to believe the same things. It means creating and promoting temporary alignments of interest in order to generate the power necessary to change things. This can be done without ever once proving how right you are. I don’t mean you should never argue for what you believe in, only that the arguing is not the point, it’s the people you’re arguing with who are.

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2 Responses to 5 reasons being right doesn’t matter in politics

  1. sam says:

    I think the ideological approach is a part of the party system. They attempt to build and then attract people to their own morality like you say. There are ideologies and questions of morality which underline the issues of public debate, and I think we need to look at these as well as just the utilitarian implications. I think the problem is the party-politics. It smells of religion. To achieve the sort of aim you talk about at the end there, I think we’d need to have much greater democratic input and the ability to create temporary coalitions and alliances on individual issues. This would call for more open discussion of individual issues and both the morality and utility of each case, or in other words, both the rightness and the usefulness. Otherwise, as in the current system of each party finding its own high ground, the ideologies take over.

    • tim says:

      I wonder how you could prevent such coalitions from forming? Even if you removed official parties, maybe you would still get block voting (for example, regional/religious/ethnic/linguistic block voting as you can find in many countries)?

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