Politics as (Un)Usual

Political relationships need more attention than they are given in the course of day to day living. It is pretty easy to get along with an occasional glance at the evening news and catch a story byte chosen by some producer for air time.  Too much air time seems devoted to the heraldry of the President and his conflicts with Congress. The consequence is that we have little to go on when it comes to what probably matters most; the local folks working at street level.

I must confess that I have probably not taken enough time to develop a relationship with any of the local office holders nearby. Minneapolis has a Open Streets program that Patti and I have engaged this summer. I’ve learned a few things that certainly would not have come my way from the news channels. The big picture is that there are people, not a lot, who are passionately devoted to making a difference. Recently I was impressed walking just one of several blocks on Central Avenue in NE Minneapolis, to find two tables by citizen groups focused on helping kids learn to read and one with a focus on math.

Community is what matters and the Open Streets program is about, all about, community. When the main artery running through a community or neighborhood shuts down and people have to leave their cars and houses, and walk around while they get to know local people. Dogs and bicycles are also welcome. At street level on foot you get to see things and meet people that passing through at 30 MPH in a car or on a bus will never be able to match. The affordances of a community shine through when you walk through the neighborhoods.

Bubbles move up not down. What we are learning from our malaise with national politics is that business and politics don’t mix very well. Business has an important place in our economy and makes for the reasonably efficient exchange of goods and services as well as some restricted and often pretty irrelevant forms of information. But the influence of commerce and industry on the most important cycles of our lives is complex and in need of attention. By that I mean we allow our lives be consumed by consumption. Consumption is a bubble moving in the wrong direction.

The usual and customary cycles of sleeping, waking, eating and maintaining some elements of attention are distilled with a vaporous fog bounded inside a bubble of existence. We are not entirely without control of what enters the bubble. The boundary is porous. The fog can occasionally burn off and let a bit of light penetrate. Technology has made a huge difference and for the most part we don’t want it any other way. But at the same time we use our iPhones and Androids to be connected, we could do well to think about how these tools fit into the warp and weft, the ebb and flow, the tides, of our lives. Google and Apple know what we like with every click on the touchscreens of our lives.

On 9/11 three thousand people tragically lost their lives when a band of ideologues concocted a criminal scheme to dismember a society they didn’t like. We called it terrorism and our response turned out to be disproportionate to the extent of the damage. Two wars and at least a $trillion of national treasure lost, not to mention thousands of additional lives lost, could have been avoided by apprehending the criminals who perpetrated the crime. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush, in that order, just got it wrong. Now, with fire and fury, it looks as though we may  get it wrong again. Politics as usual seems to walk on streets paved like a gilded toilet.

The social sciences are messy and complicated beyond imagining. That may be why there is such an impulsive tendency to simplify and generalize when too little is actually known. Anthropology, economics and sociology occasionally find a tangent with physical science and biology but any such connection between political science and biology is too remote to contemplate. Education is deeply embedded in politics. Education Science is in its infancy. Because, as I have argued elsewhere, nothing in education makes sense except in the light of our biology, there may be some reasons to hope that politics, too, will emerge from a dark cave and find light (enlightenment) as a science.

That would likely mean that the “art of the possible” would meander closer to an open society and social networks in which relationships are treated with respect and everyone is afforded the dignity they deserve as humans. But dream on. That would be politics as unusual.