Defining It

By Deane Barker tags: politics

When I was in my first political science class at Augie, I remember the first paragraph of the text tried to define “politics."  It went something like this:

Politics is what happens when people are forced to live together.

This is true, but the base definition is even deeper. I’m convinced that politics is fundamentally about shared resources. Politics only happens when two or more people are forced to share one or more things.

Consider two people living on opposite sides of a mountain. They’re each aware of their neighbor, but they never go past the mountain and never have any contact with the other.  There are no politics in this situation.  The two lives never come into contact, and they’re bound together by nothing (except a mountain…)

Now consider a patch of ground at the top of the mountain that gets sunlight year-round.  Both people discover this and the same time, and think it would be great to grow things in this meadow.  Thus, they now have to share a resource, and they’re thus introduced to politics: the science of shared resources.

Thus, we can probably amend our definition of politics to:

Politics are the rules we put around the sharing of resources.

And we share resources every day. You and I drive on the same roads.  We are defended by the same military.  We contribute taxes to the same pool of money from which the government runs.

You and I are entangled by multiple external forces. Politics are the rules we put around this.

If we assume (perhaps grossly naively) that the world strives to be fair, then perhaps we can further narrow our definition to this:

Politics is the pursuit of fairness in the sharing of resources.

The problem is, who decides “fairness”?  You may define fairness as a 50/50 split between our neighbors on the mountain, while others may say that fate made one of the farmers more talented, so he should bear more of the load, which runs us smack into issues of political worldview.

And this is where everything falls apart…

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