Citizenship politics – part 2
I am grateful for the constructive comments on my citizenship politics post, although I fear I’m a long way still from getting the idea more widely discussed. Today and tomorrow I want to explore the idea a bit more, including confronting its most obvious problems.
One issue to work through is whether citizenship politics is an approach to thinking or a set of beliefs. I have tended to present it as the former. Citizenship politics involves exploring together three sets of questions.
First, ‘who are we?’ kinds of questions. This is predominantly the domain of scientific and social scientific thinking. Neuroscience, social psychology, behavioural economics, evolutionary psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, sociology all have insights to offer us about what drives human behaviour. There is talk of a new science of human behaviour which, by combining disciplines and calling on powerful new data sets, will fulfil the ambitions of the founding fathers of social science and enable us to predict human behaviour as easily as we can predict the behaviour of chemical compounds. I doubt this. The complexity and reflexivity of human behaviour mean it will never be entirely predictable. But citizenship politics does involve the attempt to base social analysis and policy prescription on a realistic, evidence-based, account of what makes us tick.
Second, ‘who do we need to be?’ kinds of questions. This is the domain of economic thinking (as long as we define ‘economic’ broadly). The question here is what kind of behaviour is necessary from us if we are to achieve the twin goals of increasing human welfare and managing finite resources. I wrote on Friday about how John Kay made a great impression on me by asking some fascinating questions about the relationship between GDP growth and human autonomy (more on this tomorrow).
Third, ‘who should we be?’ kinds of questions. This is the domain of philosophy and ethics: what is the good life well lived?
By asking ‘who do we need to be to create the future we want?’ citizenship politics attempts to bring these three sets of questions together, understanding both that they are conceptually distinct and that a rounded case for any policy strategy should have some way of answering each.
I can think of at least three obvious ripostes to the case I have made so far. The first is that this is completely obvious; all I am doing is making explicit something which is implicit in all political arguments.
The converse criticism is that this is a counsel of perfection; we might aspire to a holistic, multi disciplinary way of thinking that moves debate to a higher level, but in the real world arguments and decisions have to be made on a more partial and tenuous basis.
Finally, it can be argued that arguing for a political case to meet certain analytical and explanatory criteria doesn’t qualify as ‘a politics’ at all. After all, on this basis, a rounded right wing argument might qualify while a limited left wing one wouldn’t and vice versa.
So tomorrow (if I can resist commenting on the Brown ‘bullying’ saga) I will describe what I see as the progressive stance in these three domains; who we are, who we need to be and who we should aspire to be.
I only hope that by then there is still someone out there reading.