The Challenge of Politics

Figuring out how you can live happily in society alongside other people.

The rational treatment of any subject should begin with a clear definition: Politics is the challenge of figuring out how you can live happily in society alongside other people.

The chief difficulty of this challenge rests in the obvious fact that each individual has a mind of their own. Everyone develops unique opinions because they observe the world through the lens of their own experiences and circumstances. As a result, people come to think, desire, and value different things. It is not controversial to observe that people are complicated and politics is personal; across time and space we find examples of people who have believed in wildly different truths and held all sorts of varying beliefs.

Getting along with other people is hard enough in the course of ordinary day-to-day life. With our neighbors, friends, and families there is an infinite number of reasons why we can get angry, frustrated, and grow resentful of each other. Even with those we are closest with, and over seemingly simple issues, reaching common ground, accommodating the interests of others, and finding mutual respect can be an extremely turbulent challenge.

Politics is so difficult because it asks us to tackle this same turbulent challenge on a much larger scale. In politics, hundreds of millions of people, who all come from diverse backgrounds, each individual carrying their own values and perspectives, must somehow unite together, generation after generation, facing a relentless storm of foreign chaos and domestic pandemonium, to figure out what kind of society they want to live in.

And trying to figure this out has never been easy. History convincingly demonstrates that politics is a never-ending struggle that primes our species for great conflicts. People naturally develop their own unique visions of how society should be set up and run, and everyone would prefer to live in a world shaped by their own ideals and political principles. Nobody wants to live in a world envisioned or controlled by other people, and no one wants to change their way of life or compromise fundamental beliefs for the sake of advancing someone else's agenda.

But history is not all doom and gloom. People have been able to overcome significant challenges and establish relatively happy societies. There is certainly potential for a large majority to amicably reconcile their disputes, and apply well-instructed reason to unite around ideas that produce a good society for everyone, but we would be naïve to ignore the primal and ruthless nature of politics. People will always clash and find reasons to be at each other's throats. Different ideas are presented, world views collide, people chose sides, defend their beliefs, and vicious contests for control and power inevitably ensue.

Even if by some miracle, one generation of people is able to establish a decent society, future generations may not be strong enough, nor even have the desire to sustain it. History's graveyard of destroyed peoples and dissolved states, unable to survive the slow and silent artilleries of time, provides a solemn warning: that maintaining and improving society is far more difficult than establishing one, to begin with.