According to the Oxford English Dictionary the first English use of the word politics can be traced back to 1450:
Aristotle..componede..the book of Etiques and of Polettiques.
A distinction is often made between small-p and large-p politics.
Small-p politics is about competitive human interactions in the workplace, organization or home.
Large-p politics refers to dynamics within a government system—municipal, provincial, state, federal, hemispherical (NATO, NORAD) or global (UN).
Also, large-p politics usually influence small-p politics. In turn, small-p politics cooperates, develops or resists large-p politics.
Another distinction could be made concerning the ethics of politics. We have honorable and dishonorable politics, fair and unfair play, human decency and indecency.
With so many news articles cropping up about corruption, it’s hard to overlook this possibility in any kind of politics.
When we say something is “political,” what are we really saying?
The dictionary says that political is an adjective meaning anything related to politics, but that doesn’t tell us much.
Theorists like Michael Parenti argue that the word political has become a euphemism. It obscures human choices that influence or determine outcomes in struggles for control, command or jurisdiction.
For Parenti, the term political often hides human indecencies appearing in competitive organizational behavior.
Similar power theorists say that political choices are rationalized as “unavoidable” in light of existing policies and the pursuit of the greater good.
However, policy is not always in the public interest. Policies may be created to ‘legitimize’ systems of exploitation, fear and totalitarian control. Adolf Hitler used this strategy when writing laws to ‘justify’ the cruel and barbaric actions of the Nazis during WW-II. And while politicians and their underlings may believe they act in accord with policy and for the greater good, sometimes policies are seen as dead wrong. Accordingly, their chief authors may be peacefully removed or violently deposed.
In our aggressive, competitive world, with so much to gain and to lose, using the word ‘political’ in everyday speech is a political act in itself. ‘Politics’ and ‘political’ can be euphemisms for all sorts of crimes and terrors that might go unnoticed by the public.
Corruption and bribery are relatively soft terms. Harder, organized crime stories do appear in the news but are often minimized – sometimes almost humorously – by countries wishing to appear squeaky clean. In Canadian news it’s always bikers like Hells Angels who profit from organized crime, not the ‘decent,’ white collar folks living in middle to upper-middle class neighborhoods.
To my mind this might be a form of scapegoating and an extension of the age-old class war.
Plain and simple, the upper classes – law abiding or not – tend to demonize, blame and punish the lower classes to a greater degree than those in their own social position. Thus it is hardly surprising that the lower classes tend to resent the upper classes.
Such a dysfunctional dynamic hardly makes for a better society or religious organization, no matter what the politicians or pastors preach.
So saying that a social environment is political can be a way of implying something quite different from mere politics. It might be a way of talking about the underbelly of 21st century society without really going there. In fact, it’s hard to know what people are really saying when they use the word ‘political.’ And that’s probably why it is so popular. Ambiguity is safe. After all, parents have kids to feed, mortgages to pay, dream vacations to pursue.
Browsing through visitor comments on major US and Canadian news sites shows that some pessimists hate politics because they believe it is hopelessly inefficient and corrupt.
Sometimes I feel that. Good examples in Canada would be the CBC News app or our Canada Revenue web site. One gets the impression that coders not good enough for genuine market competition get hired by government. Even when these online services work, they are mediocre at best. By way of contrast, the Best Buy (US tech company based in Minnesota) web site updates several times a week and is always fully functional. Capitalism either works or it doesn’t. No taxpayer supported gravy train to ride in business.
So that’s the pessimistic view. But one could also argue that politicians are just people, doing their best to make positive changes in a wildly imperfect world. I recall a former Toronto police chief once saying that he had to answer to the entire spectrum of humanity. In other words, one must be political if one wants to get anything done. This is an interesting perspective. Certainly not one for idealists.
Using the phrase politically correct is one way of being political.
An idea or action is politically correct if believed to be true or acceptable because the majority – or a highly visible group – in a given society see it that way.
Political correctness can be a good thing. PC can protect the vulnerable, the marginalized and those who are simply different.
However, some might merely pretend to believe in PC ideas for fear of repercussions. What would happen if dissenters were to voice their politically incorrect beliefs?
Some dissenters do voice their opinions, of course—especially in the US which has always championed free speech. This can lead to thorny debates and violent clashes about free speech vs. political correctness.
The U of T academic Jordan Peterson, whom some applaud and others see as a rigid, old-school dinosaur, is catalyzing this discussion on a global scale. If he were a minor academic, chances are he would have lost his job a long time ago. But because he’s fairly well-read and articulate, Peterson hangs on, saying that he’s prepared to be fired at any moment.