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Political pragmatism

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"When you are young you have such abstract ideals and such air castles, but in middle age they disappear like snow in the sun, and you end up with a belief in pragmatic politics, you know what you have and make do with the world as it is.' (...) Well, I haven't lost my ideals by any means; my belief in the fundamentals is exactly what it has been. What I have lost is my old, childlike faith in pragmatic politics."

G.K. Chesterton

With aging, Chesterton says, many people lose their idealism and put a political pragmatism in its place. That is 'more realistic,' they then say. 'The youthful ideals will still disappear.' But I can identify with Chesterton's words and have actually lost my faith in political pragmatism. I want to continue to pursue the ideal. Rather a visionary than a technocrat.

The visionary wants to fall in love and stay faithful. The technocrat wants to know what falling in love is, calculate the success rate, know how the divorce rate compares with his personal benchmark based on target group analysis, and what the average cost per year is - all this preferably worked out in a cost-benefit analysis. Or on his Chestertons, "He likes to hear from science what his wife's opinion is and have a registered nurse close his nose.

Today my two daughters were sweeping the yard. The youngest, in her open-mindedness, thinks only of cleaning up the mess. The older of the two also thinks about this, but also thinks about getting done quickly. So she exploits the nooks and crannies to sweep in the dirt which makes it look tidy sooner. She thinks about a task; "sweeping," less and less about the dirt that needs to be cleaned up. The essence disappears.

This reminded me of how this works the same way in "the big people's world. The idealism, the core, the essence of the matter often quickly fades into the background. The pragmatism takes over and with the comparison in mind, cries are used such as: 'then the dirt won't be walked all over the house', 'time is money', 'better clear the floor; the rest will come later', 'be practical; that's always nagging', 'vision is a policy issue; we have our feet in the clay', 'otherwise it takes too much time', and so on. But that the corners are never cleared you don't hear about. And that if you do want to do this it turns out to be a lot more work is a given, if only because of the caked-on residue.

The technocrat would like to see an effective method, protocol so that the same thing is always "swept" and quality can be assured, who wants to know what the neighbors think of it and what is the most scientific method.

I mean; sometimes it's wonderful to just be practical and grab that broom. But never without losing sight of the goal. We don't sweep for the sake of sweeping, or for the money or for the neighbors; no we sweep for that clean street. The youngest daughter is right. The child in you needs to be followed, not the cynical adult.

There is only one good reason for pragmatism and that is on humane grounds. That is "we arrange help because of acute need," then we'll see how to handle it systematically. But even that is based on ideology and vision. And there is only one good reason for technocratic action and that is to improve, think through, implement and hold ideology and vision in unwieldy (government) apparatus. Never to take its place.

From my position within a local government, the above is quite a strange message. After all, I have everything to do with policies, protocols, quality control, legality and so on. And I also support the application of these. But with this premise: there is a group of vulnerable / needy people who should be helped from general funds. This is what we as citizens want from the principle of solidarity. It must therefore be clear what these funds are and how we can use them to help anyone who actually needs help. And that is precisely what has been further thought out and established within the policy frameworks. To tamper with this is to create legal inequality. It means arbitrariness in the implementation. It means no longer being able to individualize because exception is the rule, instead of rule confirming. Is not being effective anymore, because the vision is not held but personally interpreted by everyone who wants to pee on it. Is free from accountability, because no one can be held responsible anymore. Unless the policy defeats its purpose. The goal is the response to ideology, not the elaboration of a technocratic system.


Erwin de Ruiter

"One man tries to express himself in books, another in boots; both are likely to fail." - G.K. Chesterton

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