DRMacIver's Notebook

Politics as long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror

Politics as long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror

From Democracy in Small Groups by John Gastil, page 145:

Consensus and democracy didn't always work to the satisfaction of the faculty and students at the Meeting School. Even as students obtained ever-greater power, they remaind reluctant to deal with many important issues.

I think an under-appreciated constraint on the running of human civilisation is just how incredibly boring well-functioning politics is. (2020 politics is of course, sadly, not boring).

Worse, it manages to be simultaneously:

I feel like this is a combination of factors that a democratic process is almost uniquely poorly suited for, which is I guess why we end up delegating so much of the running of a country to its civil service.

But there end up being all sorts of things which have these properties and you can't delegate to a civil service, because they require actual policy decisions, and I feel like we don't really have a good handle on how those work (or, at least I don't have a good handle on how those work. Is there some sort of ethnographic study of the UK parliament I could read?).

The worst combination seems to happen when a decision requires an understanding of all these boring details, but people who are not willing to believe that have democratic oversight over the decision anyway. This is basically how you end up with Brexit.

On the other hand, I know enough about how the sausage is made that I wouldn't want a country run entirely by the civil service either (I admit I might still prefer this to the current lot). Experts are, ultimately, still people, and those people do in some way need to be aligned with the wishes of the populace, at least to the degree that those wishes are reality-based and not actively murderous.

(OK, maybe I don't want much democracy in the UK, as we seem to be pretty bad at both halves of that)

I don't have any sort of solution here. I often describe the problem of how to coordinate large groups of people whose interests are only weakly mutually aligned as the fundamental problem of civilisation, so it's not surprising that I'm not going to solve it in a dashed off notebook post, but I do feel like managing this boredom aspect is more important than I had previously realised.

Unfortunately, currently we manage the boredom of politics by getting increasingly frustrated with it and, as a result, eventually deciding to make politics exciting, and that doesn't go so well.