IT’S time politicians stopped criticising and swiping at each other and provided us with some reasoned debate, says Ewan Aitken
Yet so much of our political debate fails miserably to do so. I speak as an ex-politician who was at times just as culpable as today’s would-be representatives of the people so this is not simply a critique of others. But then, in as sense, that’s the point. We are all responsible for the kind of political debate we have.
Politicians tell us what the other guy has failed to do or the terrible things that will happen should the other side win for a reason – us. All the evidence suggests that is what gets our attention and sways our vote. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of us would say, quite truthfully, we want reasoned debate and access to all the facts rather than political dogs’ abuse and spin.
The trouble is, politics is rarely about reason alone and facts never tell one truth. They are always open to interpretation. People, you and I, cast our votes guided as much by what we feel about the person presenting the facts as the facts themselves. That’s why Donald Trump is doing so well; his policies are largely bonkers and dangerous, but a significant group of Americans feel he “stands for America” and so they suspend reason about his policies like border walls and racist immigration controls. That’s not the same as saying they are acting irrationally; they are simply responding to how they feel about the world they live in.
This is not a new idea. The great enlightenment thinker David Hume argued that “Reason Is and Ought Only to Be the Slave of the Passions”. We first experience the world through our emotions and then make sense of it through our rational minds. The problem comes when we let one or other dominate our choices.
At Cyrenians we journey with many folk who have let their emotions dominate when making choices, often with disastrous consequences for them and for others. Yet we also see how the journey to a new place means not rejecting our emotional life but rebuilding it so it can inform and make sense of our rational thinking. It’s in that inner place, much more than what any politician can do, that the journey from exclusion to inclusion begins.
What I am looking for in politicians these days is an understanding of that human reality, not what they think or feel about the other guy.
Ewan Aitken is chief executive of the Edinburgh Cyrenians