The Role of Politicians

Oct 26 09:07 2007 Sam Vaknin Print This Article

Politics is about getting re-elected and nothing else besides.

It is a common error to assume that the politician's role is to create jobs,Guest Posting encourage economic activity, enhance the welfare and well-being of his subjects, preserve the territorial integrity of his country, and fulfill a host of other functions.

In truth, the politician has a single and exclusive role: to get re-elected. His primary responsibility is to his party and its members. He owes them patronage: jobs, sinecures, guaranteed income or cash flow, access to the public purse, and the intoxicating wielding of power. His relationship is with his real constituency - the party's rank and file - and he is accountable to them the same way a CEO (Chief Executive Officer) answers to the corporation's major shareholders.

To make sure that they get re-elected, politicians are sometimes required to implement reforms and policy measures that contribute to the general welfare of the populace and promote it. At other times, they have to refrain from action to preserve their electoral assets and extend their political life expectancy.

But, how does a leader become a leader?

In this article, we are not interested in the historical process but in the answer to the twin questions: what qualifies one to be a leader and why do people elect someone specific to be a leader.

The immediately evident response would be that the leader addresses or is judged by his voters to be capable of addressing their needs. These could be economic needs, psychological needs, or moral needs. In all these cases, if left unfulfilled, these unrequited needs are judged to be capable of jeopardizing "acceptable (modes of) existence". Except in rare cases (famine, war, plague), survival is rarely at risk. On the contrary, people are mostly willing to sacrifice their genetic and biological survival on the altar of said "acceptable existence".

To be acceptable, life must be honorable. To be honorable, certain conditions (commonly known as "rights") must be fulfilled and upheld. No life is deemed honorable in the absence of food and shelter (property rights), personal autonomy (safeguarded by codified freedoms), personal safety, respect (human rights), and a modicum of influence upon one's future (civil rights). In the absence of even one of these elements, people tend to gradually become convinced that their lives are not worth living. They become mutinous and try to restore the "honorable equilibrium". They seek food and shelter by inventing new technologies and by implementing them in a bid to control nature and other, human, factors. They rebel against any massive breach of their freedoms. People seek safety: they legislate and create law enforcement agencies and form armies.

 Above all, people are concerned with maintaining their dignity and an influence over their terms of existence, present and future. The two may be linked : the more a person influences his environment and moulds – the more respected he is by others. Leaders are perceived to be possessed of qualities conducive to the success of such efforts. The leader seems to be emitting a signal that tells his followers: I can increase your chances to win the constant war that you are waging to find food and shelter, to be respected, to enhance your personal autonomy and security, and o have a say about your future.

But WHAT is this signal? What information does it carry? How is it received and deciphered by the led? And how, exactly, does it influence their decision making processes?

The signal is, probably, a resonance. The information emanating from the leader, the air exuded by him, his personal data must resonate with the situation of the people he leads. The leader must not only resonate with the world around him – but also with the world that he promises to usher. Modes, fashions, buzzwords, fads, beliefs, hopes, fears, hates and loves, plans, other information, a vision – all must be neatly incorporated in this resonance table. A leader is a shorthand version of the world in which he operates, a map of his times, the harmony (if not the melody) upon which those led by him can improvise. They must see in him all the principle elements of their mental life: grievances, agreements, disagreements, anger, deceit, conceit, myths and facts, interpretation, compatibility, guilt, paranoia, illusions and delusions – all wrapped (or warped) into one neat parcel. It should not be taken to mean that the leader must be an average person – but he must discernibly contain the average person or faithfully reflect him. His voice must echo the multitude of sounds that formed the popular wave which swept him to power. This ability of his, to be and not to be, to vacate himself, to become the conduit of other people's experiences and existence, in short: to be a gifted actor – is the first element in the leadership signal. It is oriented to the past and to the present.

The second element is what makes the leader distinct. Again, it is resonance. The leader must be perceived to resonate in perfect harmony with a vision of the future, agreeable to the people who elected him. "Agreeable" – read: compatible with the fulfillment of the aforementioned needs in a manner, which renders life acceptable. Each group of people has its own requirements, explicit and implicit, openly expressed and latent.

The members of a nation might feel that they have lost the ability to shape their future and that their security is compromised. They will then select a leader who will – so they believe, judged by what they know about him – restore both. The means of restoration are less important. To become a leader, one must convince the multitude, the masses, the public that one can deliver, not that one knows the best, most optimal and most efficient path to a set goal. The HOW is of no consequences. It pales compared to the WILL HE ? This is because people value the results more than the way. Even in the most individualistic societies, people prefer the welfare of the group to which they belong to their own. The leader promises to optimize utility for the group as a whole. It is clear that not all the members will equally benefit, or even benefit at all. The one who convinces his fellow beings that he can secure the attainment of their goals (and, thus, provide for their needs satisfactorily) – becomes a leader. What matters to the public varies from time to time and from place to place. To one group of people, the personality of the leader is of crucial importance, to others his ancestral roots. At one time, the religious affiliation, and at another, the right education, or a vision of the future. Whatever determines the outcome, it must be strongly correlated with what the group perceives to be its needs and firmly founded upon its definition of an acceptable life. This is the information content of the signal.

Selecting a leader is no trivial pursuit. People take it very seriously. They often believe that the results of this decision also determine whether their needs are fulfilled or not. In other words : the choice of leader determines if they lead an acceptable life. These seriousness and contemplative attitude prevail even when the leader is chosen by a select few (the nobility, the party).

Thus, information about the leader is gathered from open sources, formal and informal, by deduction, induction and inference, through contextual surmises, historical puzzle-work and indirect associations. To which ethnic group does the candidate belong? What is his history and his family's / tribe's / nation's? Where is he coming from , geographically and culturally? What is he aiming at and where is he going to, what is his vision? Who are his friends, associates, partners, collaborators, enemies and rivals? What are the rumors about him, the gossip? These are the cognitive, epistemological and hermeneutic dimensions of the information gathered. It is all subject to a process very similar to scientific theorizing. Hypotheses are constructed to fit the known facts. Predictions are made. Experiments conducted and data gathered. A theory is then developed and applied to the known facts. As more data is added – the theory undergoes revisions or even a paradigmatic shift. As with scientific conservatism, the reigning theory tends to color the interpretation of new data. A cult of "priests' (commentators and pundits) emerges to defend common wisdom and "well known" "facts" against intellectual revisionism and non-conformism. But finally the theory settles down and a consensus emerges: a leader is born.

The emotional aspect is predominant, though. Emotions play the role of gatekeepers and circuit breakers in the decision-making processes involved in the selection of a leader. They are the filters, the membranes through which information seeps into the minds of the members of the group. They determine the inter-relations between the various data. Finally, they assign values and moral and affective weights within a coherent emotional framework to the various bits information . Emotions are rules of procedure. The information is the input processed by these rules within a fuzzy decision theorem. The leader is the outcome (almost the by-product) of this process.

This is a static depiction, which does not provide us with the dynamics of the selection process. How does the information gathered affect it? Which elements interact? How is the outcome determined?

It would seem that people come naturally equipped with a mechanism for the selection of leaders. This mechanism is influenced by experience (a-posteriori). It is in the form of procedural rules, an algorithm which guides the members of the group in the intricacies of the group interaction known as "leadership selection".

This leader-selection mechanism comprises two modules: a module for the evaluation and taxonomy of information and an interactive module. The former is built to deal with constantly added data, to evaluate them and to alter the emerging picture (Weltanschauung) accordingly (to reconstruct or to adjust the theory, even to replace it with another).

The second module responds to signals from the other members of the group and treats these signals as data, which, in turn, affects the performance of the first module. The synthesis of the output produced by these two modules determines the ultimate selection.

Leader selection is an interaction between a "nucleus of individuality", which is comprised of our Self, the way we perceive our Self (introspective element) and the way that we perceive our Selves as reflected by others. Then there is the "group nucleus", which incorporates the group's consciousness and goals. A leader is a person who succeeds in giving expression to both these nuclei amply and successfully. When choosing a leader, we, thus, really are choosing ourselves.

APPENDIX - A Comment on Campaign Finance Reform

The Athenian model of representative participatory democracy was both exclusive and direct. It excluded women and slaves but it allowed the rest to actively, constantly, and consistently contribute to decision making processes on all levels and of all kinds (including juridical). This was (barely) manageable in a town 20,000 strong.

The application of this model to bigger polities is rather more problematic and leads to serious and ominous failures.

The problem of the gathering and processing of information - a logistical constraint - is likely to be completely, satisfactorily, and comprehensively resolved by the application of of computer networks to voting. Even with existing technologies, election results (regardless of the size of the electorate), can be announced with great accuracy within hours.

Yet, computer networks are unlikely to overcome the second obstacle - the problem of the large constituency.

Political candidates in a direct participatory democracy need to keep each and every member of their constituency (potential voter) informed about their platform, (if incumbent) their achievements, their person, and what distinguishes them from their rivals. This is a huge amount of information. Its dissemination to large constituencies requires outlandish amounts of money (tens of millions of dollars per campaign).

Politicians end up spending a lot of their time in office (and out of it) raising funds through "contributions" which place them in hock to "contributing" individuals and corporations. This anomaly cannot be solved by tinkering with campaign finance laws. It reflects the real costs of packaging and disseminating information. To restrict these activities would be a disservice to democracy and to voters.

Campaign finance reform in its current (myriad) forms, is, thus, largely anti-democratic: it limits access to information (by reducing the money available to the candidates to spread their message). By doing so, it restricts choice and it tilts the electoral machinery in favor of the haves. Voters with money and education are able to obtain the information they need by themselves and at their own expense. The haves-not, who rely exclusively on information dished out by the candidates, are likely to be severely disadvantaged by any form of campaign finance reform.

The solution is to reduce the size of the constituencies. This can be done only by adopting an indirect, non-participatory form of democracy, perhaps by abolishing the direct election (and campaigning) of most currently elected office holders. Direct elections in manageable constituencies will be confined to multi-tiered, self-dissolving ("sunset") "electoral colleges" composed exclusively of volunteers.

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About Article Author

Sam Vaknin
Sam Vaknin

Sam Vaknin ( ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East.He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

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