Monday, September 24, 2007

Prog rock and representative democracy

I fear folk purist Chris Dillow's disdain for managerialism and representative democracy has taken him too far this time, for he compares party politics with prog rock:
"Both are pompous self-referential masturbatory activities undertaken by mostly middle-class white boys, which are meaningless and irrelevant to most people.

Though its fans and practitioners believe what they're doing is important and look down upon those who fail to appreciate this, the truth is that anyone with genuine intellect or taste is wholly alienated from the process."
Now, this is all very amusing - but it strikes me as being a little unfair. To our politicians, that is. For those mercifully too young to remember 'prog rock', here's Yes:

And here's Genesis:

Some pretty deep evil going on there, I think you'll agree. But there's rather more wrong with Chris's analogy than he cares to admit.

For one thing - if you don't like something, it's always difficult to distinguish between people who offer it. But it doesn't follow that your judgment is correct. I find a lot of folk music difficult to distinguish, for example. These warbling folkies with their goddam woolly jumpers, their fake traditions, and their 'acoustic' guitars that they always have wired up, nonetheless; can't tell them apart, me. But this is probably just prejudice against folk music fans and the phoney sense of authenticity they exude, rather than anything to do with the music itself.

But there's something more fundamental. The reality is that traditional party politics is popular with more people, in a more enduring way, than prog rock. A couple of points flow from this:

The benefit of having big differences between the parties is over-rated. Whenever you get some fringe outfit offering a 'real alternative', the 'customers' tends to deliver a fairly brutal verdict at the ballot box. Some of our Marxist friends are still inclined to attribute this to some form of 'false consciousness' - but could it be the more mundane, and for them uncomfortable, truth is that the parties are so similar largely because that's the way many people like it?

Focusing on the lack of choice shouldn't distract you from the benefit of having a choice in the first place. States where this happens are always more liberal and usually more equal than those where it doesn't. Chris's analogy can be used accurately to illustrate this point: prog rock is shit but states that ban prog rock in favour of traditional music are immeasurably less liberal than states that do not. The same's true of political parties.

Genesis: unquestionably a down-side of the Open Society

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